FINAL/DEFINITIVE VERSION: Aaron Winter (2013), ‘Anti-Abortion Extremism and Violence in the
United States’, Extremism in America, ed. G. Michael, Gainesville: University Press Florida.
Chapter 8: Anti-Abortion Extremism and Violence in the United States
Aaron Winter (University of Abertay)
In the pilot episode of Aaron Sorkin’s TV series The West Wing, the senior staff of the Bartlett
administration set up a meeting with three Christian Right leaders in the White House in an attempt to
placate their movement and followers after Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Lyman insults one of them, Mary
Marsh, on a TV roundtable discussion. The meeting becomes a heated stand-off when Marsh rejects the
apology and demands the administration appease the movement and Christian America with action on
school prayer, pornography or abortion. It is during this heated exchange that President Josiah Bartlett,
played by Martin Sheen, makes his first appearance in the show. Instead of admonishing his staff in an
attempt to appease a powerful political lobby, he admonishes the Christian Right leaders for their failure to
rebuke and reject militants and extremists within their movement – including clinic bombers and the Lambs
of God who sent a dismembered doll to his eight year old granddaughter as a message against her
expressed pro-choice position, and by implication that of the administration.
Debates about the relationship and boundary between mainstream and extremist (sometimes
referred to as radical or violent) activism historically emerge in response to violent incidents, where
defenders of a cause will attempt to differentiate between the two in order to maintain their legitimacy and
critics will attempt to make links between them in order to delegitimize the movement. This is necessary in
the case of the former and possible in the case of the latter because of both popular opposition and distaste
for ‘extremism’ (however defined) and because of the overlap between the ideologies and objectives of
mainstream movements and so-called extremist ones, even if they differ in terms of tactics. While a
movement’s ideology does come into play in the definition of extremism, its application is usually reserved
for those movements or activists that, while sharing an ideology or objectives with mainstream ones, reject
legitimate democratic methods in favor of violence. While this analytical distinction and boundary is
applied to many movements, perhaps the clearest application is the anti-abortion movement in the United
States, which includes: elected officials, members of the Republican Party, the Christian Right, church
groups and citizen activists, as well as more militant direct action organizations, terrorists and elements of
the extreme right. The distinction and relationship between the ‘mainstream’ and ‘extreme’ anti-abortion
activism has become more significant in the first decade of the 21st century as America has not only waged
a war against terrorism, but the stigma of terrorism that had become attached to the anti-abortion movement
in the 1990s has been obscured as anti-abortion activism reached the White House and political power
under President George W. Bush and the ascendant Christian Right. Yet, anti-abortion violence returned
‘Pilot’, The West Wing, Dir. Thomas Schlamme, Warner Brothers, 1999,
soon after Bush left office and Barack Obama entered it as the murder of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few
doctors to perform so-called ‘late-term abortions,’ by activist Scott Roeder in Wichita, Kansas on May 31
2009 clearly illustrated.
This chapter will provide an overview of the literature on extremist or violence anti-abortion
activism, and where it fits in to wider literature on the anti-abortion or pro-life movement, the Christian
Right and other forms of sectors of the right, as well as terrorism. This will be followed by an overview and
examination of the different sectors of the anti-abortion movement, including the mainstream, militant
direct action organizations such as Operation Rescue, the Pro-Life Action Network and Lambs of Christ,
and extremist ones that advocate or perpetuate violence such as the American Coalition of Life Activists,
Missionaries of the Preborn and the Army of God, websites such as the Nuremburg Files and so-called
‘lone wolf’ terrorists such as Rev. Mike Bray, Rev. Paul Hill, John Salvi, James Kopp, Eric Rudolph and
Scott Roeder. This will include an overview and examination of the theological and textual sources and
material used to advocate and justify violent activism. Finally, it will examine the history of anti-abortion
extremism and violence in the post-Roe v. Wade context from 1973 to the present. Through these sections,
the chapter will interrogate the relationships between extremist and violent anti-abortion violence, the
mainstream anti-abortion movement, wider mainstream Christian Right and extreme right. It will also
examine responses to these activists and anti-abortion violence by the government and the mainstream anti-
abortion movement. Significantly, the chapter will look at whether the mainstream anti-abortion movement
provides support for more extreme elements activists or disassociates itself from these elements as it is
frequently called upon to do, and whether it can or should be held responsible for perpetrators of violence
who share a common cause. Finally, the chapter will examine how anti-abortion extremism and violence
are understood in relation in post-9/11 America.
Mapping the Literature
The literature on the extremist or violent wing of the anti-abortion movement is greatly informed
by, speaks about and in many cases replicates debates on the relationship and boundaries between different
wings. In addition to this, literature on or which addresses extremist and violent anti-abortion activism
tends to be pro-choice or liberal in its politics, whereas pro-life literature tends to ignore or marginalize
more extreme and violent activism in favor of mainstream variants and displaces violence onto pro-choice
activism and abortion providers. While some pro-choice activists and commentators argue that violence is
committed by the state through legislation, lack of support or defense of provision, unequal provision and
historical lack of provision that put women’s health and lives at risk.
The literature that examines anti-abortion extremism and violence can be divided into five areas of
research/focus: a. anti-abortion extremism and violence; b. the anti-abortion movement; c. the Christian
Right and mainstream conservatism; d. white supremacy and the extreme right; e. terrorism (particularly
US domestic terrorism). These can be further divided into academic, journalistic and activist research and
In terms of the first category, the literature specifically on anti-abortion extremism and violence is
fairly limited and comprised of a relatively even mix of academic, activist and journalistic non-fiction
crime writing on specific individuals. In terms of academic literature, there are two significant examples:
the first is Dallas Blanchard and Terry Prewitt’s study of the ‘Christmas bombings’ of two clinics in
Pensacola, Florida on December 25 1984 by the ‘Pensacola Four’, Religious Violence and Abortion: The
Gideon Project (1993),
which was the first major piece of academic research on anti-abortion violence.
While Blanchard and Prewitt’s book focuses on a particular case study, the second example, Carol Mason’s
Killing For Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics (2002),
examines the discourses and
narratives of the movement and violent activists. Academic work on anti-abortion violence is also
examined in essays and chapters in books on other areas discussed below, such as the wider anti-abortion
movement and terrorism. Notable examples include Marcy Wilder’s ‘The Rule of Law, the Rise of
Violence, and the Role of Morality: Reframing America’s Abortion Debate’, in Rickie Solinger’s Abortion
Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000 (1998),
and Jeffrey Kaplan’s ‘Absolute Rescue: Absolutism,
Defensive Action and the Resort to Force’ from Michael Barkun’s Millenarianism and Violence (1996).
Perhaps one of the most personal and comprehensive overviews of anti-abortion violence comes from the
front lines of experience and activism in the form of Patricia Baird-Windle and Eleanor J. Bader’s, Targets
of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism (New York: Palgrave, 2001).
Baird-Windle is a long time abortion
provider and founder of the Florida Abortion Council (now the Florida Coalition of Independent Providers)
and co-founder of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, while Bader is a social worker and
In and amongst the more exploitative crime non-fiction, the most notable examples in the latter
category are Maryanne Vollers’ book on extreme right and anti-abortion terrorist Eric Rudolph, most
infamous for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Park bombing, Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the
Pursuit of an American Outlaw (2006)
and Jon Wells’ book on James ‘Atomic Dog’ Kopp who murdered
Buffalo, New York abortion provider Dr. Bernard Slepian in 1998, Sniper: The True Story of Anti-Abortion
Dallas A. Blanchard and Terry J. Prewitt, Religious Violence and Abortion: The Gideon Project
(Gainsville: University Press Florida, 1993).
Carol Mason, Killing For Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics (Ithaca: Cornell University
Marcy J. Wilder, ‘The Rule of Law, the Rise of Violence, and the Role of Morality: Reframing America’s
Abortion Debate’, in Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000, ed. Rickie Solinger
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), pp. 73-94.
Jeffrey Kaplan, ‘Absolute Rescue: Absolutism, Defensive Action and the Resort to Force’,
Millenarianism and Violence, ed. Michael Barkun (Portland: Frank Cass, 1996), pp. 128-163. .
Patricia Baird-Windle and Eleanor J. Bader, Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism (New York:
Maryanne Vollers, Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw
(New York: HarperCollins, 2006).
Killer James Kopp (2008).
In addition to literature, there have also been serious documentaries on anti-
abortion violence, most notably Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson’s Soldiers in the Army of God on the
Army of God (2005).
Another documentary is Tony Kaye’s Lake of Fire (2006),
to the next category of literature, attempts to map out the history and both sides of the conflict over
abortion, as well interviewing figures from across the anti-abortion movement, from the mainstream to the
The second category of literature that examines the anti-abortion extremism and violence is that
which looks at it in the context of the wider anti-abortion movement, its history, major developments and
diverse make up. In some cases, such literature also examines and analyses the relationship between the
various wings of the movement and between non-violent and violent forms of protest. The most notable
academic work in this category is Dallas Blanchard’s follow-up to the aforementioned Religious Violence
and Abortion: The Gideon Project, The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right: From
Polite to Fiery Protest (1994),
which along with its predecessor are the most authoritative books on the
subject. Another academic work in the area is Carol Maxwell’s sociological overview and analysis Pro-Life
Activists in America: Meaning, Motivation, and Direct Action (2002),
which brings the literature more up
to date to a post-9/11 period. In addition to academic work on the anti-abortion movement, there is also
journalists James Risen and Judy Thomas’ Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (1998),
examines the history of the anti-abortion movement and battles in the post-Roe context. Finally, there is the
previously mentioned collection edited by Rickie Solinger Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle,
which includes a variety of individual essays on topics ranging from social and legal
histories of abortion rights and provision to accounts from the clinic ‘front lines’ and anti-abortion
The third category of literature which looks at anti-abortion extremism and violence is that on the
wider Christian Right and mainstream conservatism, within which anti-abortion politics and activism is a
sub-topic. In this context, anti-abortion violence is seen as either the most extreme manifestation or, like
work on the wider anti-abortion movement, implicates the mainstream in terms of legitimization, lack of
condemnation or incitement. Moreover, work in this category also examines the relationship between anti-
abortion violence and the government or mainstream political parties via the Christian Right and
mainstream conservatism. In addition to Blanchard’s second book can also be included in this category,
Jon Wells, Sniper: The True Story of Anti-Abortion Killer James Kopp (Mississauga: Wiley, 2008).
Soldiers in the Army of God, Dir. Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson, HBO, 2005
Lake of Fire, Dir. Tony Kaye, Artefact Media, 2006.
Dallas A. Blanchard, The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right: From Polite to
Fiery Protest (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1994).
Carol Maxwell, Pro-Life Activists in America: Meaning, Motivation, and Direct Action (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2002).
James Risen and Judy Thomas, Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War (New York: Basic Books,
Rickie Solinger (ed.), Abortion Wars: A Half Century of Struggle, 1950-2000 (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1998).
work in this area includes Sara Diamond’s Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (1990),
Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (1995) and Facing
the Wrath: Confronting the Right in Dangerous Times (1996).
In addition to work by Diamond, there is
also Linda Kintz’s, Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America
and Esther Kaplan’s With God On Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right (2005).
While these look at anti-abortion activism and violence in the context of the Christian Right and
mainstream conservatism, Martin Durham’s The Christian Right, the Far Right and the Boundaries of
American Conservatism (2000) examines anti-abortion violence, as the title indicates, in terms of both the
mainstream and far (or extreme) right and organized racism.
Following on from Durham’s work and turning to the literature which examines anti-abortion
extremism and violence and the extreme right, this category also includes Anne Burlein’s Lift High the
Cross: Where White Supremacy and the Christian Right Converge (2002),
as well as Barbara Perry’s
‘“White Genocide”: White Supremacists and the Politics of Reproduction’ from Abby Ferber’s Home-
Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism (2004).
While this literature examines the relationship and
overlap between anti-abortion activism and the racist extreme right, George Michael’s Confronting Right-
Wing Extremism and Terrorism in the USA (2003),
looks at anti-abortion violence in the context of wider
right-wing extremism and terrorism, as well as responses it.
The final category of literature on anti-abortion extremism and violence is that on the topic of
terrorism, within which the anti-abortion variety is defined as ‘single issue terrorism’.
In this literature,
anti-abortion extremists and terrorists are examined in the context of other movements that share this tactic
and in some cases religion. The most notable example of this is Mark Juergensmeyer’s Terror in the Mind
of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (2001),
which was reprinted following 9/11. Also sharing
the religious theme and analytical framework is Jessica Stern’s similarly titled Terror in the Name of God:
Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (New York: Black Rose Books,
1990); Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States (New York:
Guilford, 1995); Facing the Wrath: Confronting the Right in Dangerous Times (Monroe: Common
Courage Press, 1996).
Linda Kintz, Between Jesus and the Market: The Emotions That Matter in Right-Wing America (Durham:
Duke University Press, 1997).
Esther Kaplan, With God On Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right (New York: The New
Martin Durham, The Christian Right, the Far Right and the Boundaries of American Conservatism
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000).
Anne Burlein, Lift High the Cross: Where White Supremacy and the Christian Right Converge (Durham:
Duke University Press, 2002).
Barbara Perry, ‘“White Genocide”: White Supremacists and the Politics of Reproducation’, Home-
Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism, ed. Abby L. Ferber (New York: Routledge, 2004), pp. 75-96.
George Michael, Confronting Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in the USA (London: Routledge,
Ibid. p. 1.
Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 2001).
Why Religious Militants Kill (2003).
Surprisingly few books on terrorism itself, such as David Whitaker’s
The Terrorism Reader (2001), examine anti-abortion terrorism.
Those that do include Jeffrey Ian Ross’s
Political Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary Approach (2006)
and Christopher Hewitt’s Understanding
Terrorism in America: From the Klan to Al Qaeda (2003), the latter being perhaps the only book to focus
specifically on US domestic terrorism in all its forms and movements.
In addition to published literature on anti-abortion extremism and violence, there are a number of
other sources that cover this area and phenomenon, as well as being actors in the abortion conflict in some
capacity (e.g. as pro-choice or abortion rights advocates, civil rights activists, law enforcement, etc.). These
include pro-choice and abortion rights organizations such as the National Abortion Federation (NAF),
Planned Parenthood and National Coalition of Abortion Providers (as well as various state coalitions and
associations), monitoring or watchdog organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center:
Intelligence Project, Political Research Associates and of course federal law enforcement agencies, such as
the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Forearms (ATF) and US
Department of Homeland Security, as well a local and state law enforcement who deal with protests,
security and the investigation of threats and violent incidents.
Mapping the Movement: Mainstream, Militant and Extremist Anti-Abortion Activism.
As previously stated, the anti-abortion movement can be divided up into three wings or sectors,
mainstream, militant and extremist. Yet, not only are the relationships and boundaries between these
sectors and specific movements or organizations within them blurry (both analytically and practically) and
historically contingent, but also explicitly contested within political debate, the media, movement
propaganda and scholarship. Where there is relative consensus is on the fact that the distinctions and thus
definitions of each wing are based on the distinction between ideology and tactics, and that while all
oppose abortion and hold a great deal in common ideologically, they use different tactics to achieve their
aim and assert that ideology, from the most mainstream and legitimate tactics to the most violent and
extreme. This section will outline each wing, with a more detailed overview of the extremist or violent
wing that is the focus of this chapter, before examining the relationships and overlaps between them.
The mainstream wing can be defined as that which pursues and advocates a pro-life or anti-
abortion agenda targeting elected representatives, legislators, the medical profession, and abortion
providers in order to affect opinion, changes in the law, restrictions on provision, rights and access (e.g.
‘late-term’ abortions), and ultimately the abolition of abortion. It is made up of mainstream, conservative
religious and political organizations such as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for
Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (New York: Ecco, 2003).
David Whittaker, The Terrorism Reader (London: Routledge, 2001).
Jeffrey Ian Ross, Political Terrorism: An Interdisciplinary Approach (New York: Peter Lang, 2006).
Christopher Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America: From the Klan to Al Qaeda (London:
Pro-Life Activities and the National Right to Life Committee, as well as members of the mainstream
political parties, churches, religious groups, media outlets and commentators. They pursue their agenda and
objectives through legitimate, democratic and non-violent means such as lobbying, campaigning,
supporting political campaigns or running for elected office, fundraising, public protest, advocacy and
propaganda. One example of this is the annual ‘March for Life’ and another is the ‘Stop the Abortion
Mandate’. The latter was organized to protest Obama’s health care reform through lobbying, attending
town hall meetings and writing their ‘Coalition Letter to Congress’. The signatories to this letter included
Priests for Life, Christian Medical Association, Focus on the Family Action, Christian Coalition of
America, Americans United for Life, and many others.
Such organizations tend to reject violence.
The militant wing can be defined as those organizations and activists who seek to end abortion
rights and provision not on a legal and political front as the mainstream wing does, but on the front lines by
targeting abortion providers (both clinics and doctors) and pro-choice rights and advocacy groups using
direct action tactics. These tactics include blocking clinic entrances by creating human blockades and
locking themselves to clinic gates and doors, and harassment of providers and patients using both physical
confrontation and propaganda in the form of visual images of abortions and aborted foetuses. The militant
wing is made up of organizations such as Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue, the Pro-Life Action Network,
Lambs of Christ and Rescue America. Due to the confrontational nature of their rhetoric and tactics, the
violence that has broken out at clinic protests and blockades or been committed by individuals associated
with these organizations through membership, possession of literature or participation in the same clinic
protests, these militant organizations have often been implicated in violence, labeled extremists and been
the target of legislation to protect abortion providers.
The extremist wing is constituted by those anti-abortion activists who advocate, threaten or use
violence against those who provide, receive or support abortion. It is done with the intention of
intimidating, injuring or killing these targets in order to deter them or others, exact retribution, influence
changes to the law and prevent or end the practice and availability of abortion. Such violence typically
involves bombing, arson, assassination, assault, death threats, kidnapping, invasion, vandalism and
There are a number of organizations associated with anti-abortion violence, such as American
Coalition of Life Activists and Missionaries to the Preborn, but typically violent attacks on abortion
providers have been committed by lone individuals or so-called ‘lone wolves’, those on the fringes of the
movement or informal groups.
The most notable examples include Rev. Mike Bray, Rev. Paul Hill, John
Salvi, Eric Rudolph, James Kopp and Scott Roeder. Another significant ‘actor’ in this wing of the
movement is the Army of God. First appearing as a moniker used in a 1982 kidnapping and bombing, it has
since appeared on death threats and claims of responsibility following numerous attacks. In its first decade,
between its first appearance and 1994, the Army of God was linked to bombing and arson attacks on one
StopTheAbortionMandate.com: Coalition, ‘Coalition Letter to Congress’, July 22, 2009, <http://stopthe
Blanchard, The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right, p. 56.
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, p. 58.
In the 1990s, Alabama-based Donald Spitz set up the Army of God website.
of God and its website provided a virtual forum for activists to get information, post claims of
responsibility for attacks and statements of support for violent activists. The Army of God Manual, which
was available on the website, detailed illegal and often violent tactics that could be used against abortion
clinics and staff. These tactics included everything from using nails, glue, butyric acid, guns, bombs and
arson to damage property, prevent clinics from functioning and even execute staff.
The latter objective
was clearly articulated and justified in the 1992 edition of the manual, which stated:
‘The use of force is woefully inadequate against mass murder, unless that force is
directed against the perpetrator of the crime. Imagine an investigator discovering a killer.
He knows where the crimes are committed. He knows the building contains all the
instruments of torture that this criminal will be using. So the investigator goes out in the
middle of the night and destroys the murder weapons, and even the structure where the
killer did his crimes. So the psychopathic mass murderer packs up, moves down the
street, reinvests in more instruments of torture, and continues killing. Our Most Dread
Sovereign Lord God requires that whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be
shed. We are forced to take arms against you. You shall not be tortured at our hands.
Vengeance belongs to God only. However, execution is rarely gentle.’
It has been debated whether the Army of God is a formal organization employing the tactic of
‘leaderless resistance’ or merely an identification and affiliation for individual ‘lone wolf’ terrorists to use,
but experts agree that it is most likely the latter.
This is something that the Army of God Manual appeared
to confirm, stating that it is:
‘not a real army, humanly speaking. It is a real Army, and God is the General and
Commander-in-Chief. The soldiers, however, do not usually communicate with one
another. Very few have ever met each other. And when they do, each is usually unaware
of the other’s soldier status. That is why the Feds will never stop this Army. Never.’
Another significant actor and website is Neal Horsley and his Nuremburg Files, which was also
hosted by the American Coalition of Life Activists. The Nuremburg Files listed the names and addresses of
abortion doctors and clinic owners and employees, as well as judges, politicians, law enforcement and other
government officials considered to be pro-abortion, including a so-called ‘Deadly Dozen’, as defendants for
Ross, Political Terrorism, p. 157.
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), ‘Anti-Abortion Violence: Would-Be Clinic Bomber Gets
40 Years’, Intelligence Report, Fall 2007, <http://www.splcenter.org/int/intelreport/article.jsp? aid+833>.
Baird-Windle and Bader, Targets of Hatred, pp. 168-169.
Ibid. p. 170.
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, p. 58.
Mason, Killing For Life, p. 22.
The first page of the website included a statement from the American Coalition of
Life Activists, which read:
‘The American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA) is cooperating in collecting dossiers
on abortionists in anticipation that one day we may be able to hold them on trial for
crimes against humanity. … One of the great tragedies of the Nuremberg Trials after
WWII was that complete information and documented evidence had not been collected so
many war criminals went free or were only found guilty of minor crimes. We do not want
the same thing to happen when the day comes to charge abortionists with their crimes.
We anticipate the day when these people will be charged in PERFECTLY LEGAL
COURTS once the tide of the nation’s opinion turns against child killing (as it surely
Although the information was posted under the auspices of evidence collection for future trials, following
Dr. Bernard Slepian’s murder by James Kopp in 1998, a red line appeared through Slepian’s name. This
confirmed fears that the website encouraged violence and led to both a civil lawsuit and the closure of the
site in 1999,
The Nuremburg Files functioned less like a virtual organization in the sense of Army of God
and more like a source of inspiration, information and justification, and it is to such sources that we now
The sources of and justification for anti-abortion extremism and violence are typically religious
and primarily Christian, particularly fundamentalist Catholic, Protestant and Mormon,
with mainstream adherents, activists through religious identification and theology if not tactics. Yet, there
are also more extreme theologies such as Christian Reconstructionism, Dominion Theology, Christian
Millenarianism, Apocalyptic Catholicism and Christian Identity, to which most violent activists can be
The textual sources used include both parts of the bible, most notably Gideon, from the Book of
Judges and the Phineas story from the Book of Numbers, and movement manifestos and writings. Perhaps
the most prolific and infamous author is Rev. Michael Bray of the Reformed Lutheran Church in Bowie,
Maryland, who was the author of Ethics of Operation Rescue and A Time to Kill, the latter of which
provides biblical, ethical and historical justifications for the use of force in the case of anti-abortion
activism and denounces Christian pacifism.
The question of whether he advocates the murder of doctors
is posed in the Appendix, and in response Bray answers:
‘No. We are not embarrassed about stopping short of advocating the slaying of
government-approved childkillers … We simply declare that the slaying of (even)
Frederick Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Extremists: ‘Patriots’ and racists converge’, Intelligence Report.
Summer 1998, <http://www.splcenter.org/int/ intelreport/article.jsp? aid+410>.
Baird-Windle and Bader, Targets of Hatred, pp. 282-283.
Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, p. 142.
Blanchard, The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right, p. 58.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Extremists’; Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, pp.
24-30; Baird-Windle and Bader, Targets of Hatred, pp. 237-238.
Clarkson, ibid; Juergensmeyer, ibid. p. 21.
government sanctioned childkillers is justified. We do not know the best strategy to resist
the evil of abortion. But we cannot condemn that forceful, even lethal, action which is
applied for the purpose of saving innocent children.’
Bray is also alleged to be one of the authors of the Army of God Manual.
. In addition to the
manifestos and manuals, this wing of the movement also produces a number of periodicals, including
Capitol Area Christian News edited by Bray.
In the December 1992 issue, Bray even printed an article
detailing the use and effects of butyric acid, an increasingly popular weapon of anti-abortion extremists.
There is also , Prayer & Action Weekly News run by David Leach and Life Advocate, co-edited by Andrew
Burnett the co-founder of American Coalition of Life Activists and Paul de Parrie,
advocated violence and declared support for anti-abortion terrorists and assassins, such as former
Presbyterian minister Rev. Paul Hill.
Hill was the author of the infamous ‘Defensive Action Statement’,
which declared that the murder of abortion providers in defense of the unborn was ‘Justifiable Homicide’,
and assassinated Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett in Pensacola, Florida, in 1994.
In addition to political treatises, the movement also produced a good deal of fiction, including
ARISE and Rescue Platoon, both published by David Leach of Prayer & Action Weekly News.
former, is significant in that it combines fact and fiction through its story about anti-abortion activist Paul
Hill (who is executed in the book, prior to the real Hill’s own execution on September 3 2003), and the
mobilization of the Rescue Platoon into service as the ‘Army of God’, who attack abortion providers and
clinics, and oppose the federal government and national guard alongside the very real Republic of Texas
Another novel is Gideon’s Touch which was written in 1995 by Ellen Vaughn of Christianity
Today and former Nixon advisor Charles Colson.
The story concerns the murder of a female abortion
provider and its affect on two brothers on different wings of the anti-abortion movement: Alex Seaton, an
anti-abortion terrorist who is killed by federal agents and his brother Daniel, a non-violent pro-life minister
who is charged with conspiracy in relation to his brother’s terrorist activities.
Both the authorship and
storyline thus bring us back to the relationship and overlap between the mainstream, militant and extremist
wings of the anti-abortion movement and the role of violence in such distinctions and designations.
Baird-Windle and Bader, Targets of Hatred, pp. 237-238.
Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, p. 21.
Blanchard, The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right, p. 101.
Frederick Clarkson. ‘Anti-Abortion Violence: Two decades of arson, bombs and
murder’, Intelligence Report, Summer 1998, <http://www.splcenter.org/int/
intelreport/article.jsp?aid+411>; Mason, Killing for Life, p. 46.
Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God , p. 21.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence’.
Mason, Killing for Life, pp. 99-102.
Ibid. pp. 108-114.
While most activists can fit fairly comfortably into one of the aforementioned categories, their
status is highly problematic and hotly debated for several reasons. Firstly, in analytical terms the
distinctions are based on the splitting of ideology and tactics, and determining the location of the latter on a
relative scale from mainstream to extreme. This not only negates overlap and relationships between them
ideologically, but allows that ideology and ideological overlap to go relatively un-interrogated. Secondly,
in historical and political terms, such categories and distinctions are contingent because the organizations
and activists that populate such categories, the tactics that distinguish them, as well as their ideologies are
subject to not only change, but emerge and die out, increase and decrease, converge and diverge at different
points as they respond to developments which relate to and affect them and their cause. For example,
political and legal developments such as Roe v. Wade, the election of George W. Bush and ascendance of
the Christian Right, Obama’s heath care reform or the murder of an abortion provider that leads to a public,
media or state backlash against one or all sectors of the movement. Thirdly, these categories and the
distinctions between them can be political and ideological in their construction and application. This is the
case because while mainstream defenders of the cause may be inclined to deny any overlap with the
militant or extremist wings in order to mainstream legitimacy, critics of the cause may seek to emphasize
ideological overlap or find examples of incitement to militancy by mainstream activists or violence by
militant activists. Returning to the issue of historical contingency, this trend will be a more acute and
productive problem during elections and judicial appointments, votes on abortion-related bills or legislation
and in the context of violent attacks. Finally, as outlined in the previous section, these categories are both
constructed and contested within and through the very literature that informs our understanding and
knowledge of them.
There are numerous examples of the blurred and contingent boundaries between the three wings.
While most mainstream anti-abortion organizations and activists denounce violence publicly, such as
Richard Doerflinger, Assistant Director of the Office of Prolife Activities of the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops (NCCB), others (including the NCCB itself) have indirectly justified the bombing of
clinics by blaming them on the very existence of the clinics themselves.
In another example of the
overlap between mainstream and extremist anti-abortion activists, and support of the latter by the former,
California-based Baptist minister Wiley Drake signed a letter of support for James Kopp on the Army of
God website following his murder of Dr. Bernard Slepian. Yet, this did not prevent him from later
becoming vice president of the mainstream Southern Baptist Convention.
While overlap between
mainstream and extremist organizations and activists is rare, it is more common that violent or extremist
activists have relationships and associations with militant ones or receive support from them. While
extremist activists such as Michael Bray and the American Coalition for Life Activists reject the non-
violent tactics of the militant (and obviously mainstream) wing, many others were members of Operation
Rescue and Michael Griffin, who murdered Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida on March 10 1993, was a
Blanchard, The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right, p. 100.
SPLC, ‘Anti-Abortion Movement: Assassin Supported by Baptist Official is Convicted’, Intelligence
Report, Spring 2007, <http://www. splcenter.org/int/intelreport/article.jsp?aid+743>.
member of the militant Rescue America.
In addition to these examples, Scott Roeder attended clinic
protests where Operation Rescue was present and posted statements on Operation Rescue’s website prior to
killing Tiller, including this example of militant direct action as opposed to extremism or violence, from
Bleass [sic] everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the
closing of his death camp. Sometime soon, would it be feasible to organize as many
people as possible to attend Tillers church (inside, not just outside) to have much more of
a presence and possibly ask questions of the Pastor, Deacons, Elders and members while
there? Doesn't seem like it would hurt anything but bring more attention to Tiller.
Such overlap and relationships between the mainstream and extremist activists extends beyond the activist
anti-abortion movement into government and elected officials, and their stance not only on abortion but
also on anti-abortion violence. The Reagan administration was criticized by anti-abortion groups of
downplaying the significance of anti-abortion violence when the head of the FBI William Webster refused
to classify clinic bombings and arson as terrorism.
Reagan himself was also accused of legitimizing and
providing tacit approval to anti-abortion extremists and violence based on the fact that he made public anti-
abortion statements, issued a proposal to Congress in 1985 to deny funding to family planning clinics that
provided abortion info and refused to condemn clinic bombings.
Yet, the role of the government and state
in the abortion wars and actions of the extremist or violent wing extends beyond support for the cause and
lack of condemnation of violence, as was the case under Reagan. The role of the government in influencing
and possibly contributing to an increase in anti-abortion violence also comes from the opposite side with
pro-choice platforms, policies and legislation or the greater use of law enforcement (security, intelligence,
surveillance and authority) to protect clinic staff, patients and access, limit the anti-abortion activists’
ability to protest, and deal directly with terrorism itself, as these can antagonize and radicalize the
movement. The most significant examples include President Bill Clinton’s Freedom of Clinic Entrances
Act of 1994. This will be discussed and examined in the following section on the movement’s history.
While not included as a sector or wing of the anti-abortion movement, the extreme right or
organized racist movement has in the past had relationships with the extremist wing of the anti-abortion
movement based on cross-movement causes, membership and activism. The convergence and overlap
between the two movements can be explained by a number of factors, including absolutist, radical and
violent theologies such as Christian Identity, or violent activists who movement or cause ‘shop’. Most
significantly though, according to Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project
SPLC, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence: Two decades of arson, bombs and murder’,
Intelligence Report, Summer 1998, <http://www.splcenter.org/int/
Huffington Post, ‘Scott Roeder Held as “Person of Interest” in Probe of Dr. George Tiller’s Murder, June
6 2009, <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/31/scott-roeder-held-as-pers_n_209551.html>.
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, p. 87.
Ibid, p. 39.
both movements share a common list of enemies, most notably the federal government.
This is best
articulated in Prayer & Action Weekly News’ call for the formation of militias to resist government attacks
on farmers, loggers, miners, fisherman, small businessmen, patriots and the unborn,
all of which the
movements view as targets of the government, its legislation and alleged conspiracies. Yet, it is also in
terms of their enemies that the two movements split on the issue of abortion. White supremacist
organizations such as White Aryan Resistance make a distinction between white abortions, as a form of
white genocide, and abortions on African-Americans which are viewed through the lens of racism and
eugenics as a positive practice.
The most high profile example of cross-over between the extreme right
and anti-abortion movement is Eric Rudolph, an extreme right anti-government ‘patriot’ with Christian
Identity affiliations who the Southern Poverty Law Center and Dallas Blanchard view as symbolic of the
merger the two based on the shared enemies list.
The shared enemies can be seen in Rudolph’s diverse
choice of targets, including the Atlanta Olympics, a lesbian bar and abortion clinics, as well as those of
Willie Ray Lampley, leader of the Oklahoma Constitutional Militia, who was convicted for a conspiracy to
bomb abortion clinics, gay bars, the Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League in 1996.
Such examples also problematize the notion that anti-abortion terrorism is ‘single-issue terrorism’.
While Rudolph is the most high profile extreme right activist and Identity-adherent to engage in
anti-abortion activism, other examples of overlap include the declaration of support for Paul Hill made in
the Identity publication Jubilee,
and the bombing of Planned Parenthood offices in Spokane, Washington
by Idaho-based Identity-affiliated Phineas Priests in 1996.
In the opposite direction, several anti-abortion
activists have embraced the anti-government extreme right, including Matthew Trewhella of Missionaries
to the Preborn has called for the formation of militias and Tim Dreste leader of the American Coalition of
Life Activists also served as captain and chaplain for the 1st Missouri Volunteers Militia (Clarkson, 1998a).
In another example, Scott Roeder was alleged to have had ties to both the militant anti-abortion movement
and extreme right anti-government ‘Sovereign’ movement.
At the same time, it has been argued by many
that Roeder’s actions were encouraged and legitimized by mainstream anti-abortion attacks on not only
abortion but also against Tiller himself (‘Tiller the baby killer’) both prior to the attack and following it, by
Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly and others.
Mark Potok, ‘A Nation of Laws?’, Intelligence Report, Summer 1998,
Durham, The Christian Right, the Far Right and the Boundaries of American Conservatism, p. 98.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Extremists’.
Potok, ‘A Nation of Laws?’.
Blejwas, Andrew, Griggs, Anthony and Potok, Mark, ‘Terror From the Right: Almost 60 terrorist plots
uncovered in the U.S.’, Intelligence Report, Summer 2005,
<http://www.splcenter.org/int/intelreport/article.jsp?aid+549>; Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Extremists’.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence’.
SPLC, ‘Anti-Abortion Extremism: Doctor’s Alleged Killer Had ‘Sovereign’ Ties’, Intelligence Report,
Fall 2009, <www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=1082>.
Mapping the History: Violence, Movement Developments and Government Responses
In discussions about anti-abortion violence, its history always begins with Roe v. Wade, the
Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in 1973 and 1976 when the first attack on abortion
providers took place. Yet, what is often ignored is the violence allowed to occur in back alley abortionists
and self-abortion in the absence of legal abortion provision. This is something many women’s groups and
pro-choice activists view as a form of anti-abortion violence by the state (and/or the American Medical
and arguably continues today due to both uneven and inconsistent abortion access and
provision state to state, the failure of the federal government to fully protect and defend abortion rights
nationally, the presence of anti-abortion protestors and blockades at clinics, as well as the threat and reality
of anti-abortion violence. Yet, according to Sara Diamond, it was only with the emergence and acceptance
of legally sanctioned abortion did the anti-abortion movement’s violent resistance wing emerge.
In their NAF Violence and Disruption Statistics: Incidents of Violence & Disruption Against
Abortion Providers in the U.S. & Canada, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) reports under the
category of ‘violence’, that between 1977 and 2008 there have been 7 murders, 17 attempted murders, 41
bombings, 175 arsons, 96 attempted bombings and arsons, 385 cases of invasion, 1,358 cases of vandalism,
1,833 cases of trespassing, 100 Butyric acid attacks, 658 anthrax attacks, 171 cases of assault and battery,
399 death threats, 4 kidnappings, 140 cases of burglary, and 506 stalking cases. The highest number of
murders (4) and attempted murders (8) for any single year took place in 1,994, during the Clinton era when
the abortion wars were at their peak. Surprisingly though, considering the association of 2001 with Islamist
terrorism, the Democratic Party with pro-choice policies and George W. Bush as a friend of the Christian
Right and pro-choice movement, this was the year of the greatest number of violent incidents, 795 which
much of it accounted for by (fake) anthrax attacks.
The NAF also keeps statistics on ‘disruption’ which
includes activities and tactics associated with both the extremist and militant wings, as un-affiliated
individuals. Under this category, between 1977 and 2008, there have been 12,283 cases of hate mail and
harassing calls, 295 cases of email or internet based harassment, 122 hoax devices or suspicious packages
sent to providers, 631 bomb threats, and 130,060 cases of picketing,
although the latter of which is also a
tactic of mainstream activists which can account for the high number. Under the category of ‘clinic
blockades, which could also be classified as ‘disruptions’, there were 755 incidents and 37,718 arrests
during this period.
The NAF also state that the number of incidents is likely to be higher than reported.
Ninia Baehr, Abortion Without Apology: A Radical History for the 1990s, Boston: South End Press,
Diamond, Roads to Dominion, p. 229.
National Abortion Federation (NAF), National Violence and Disruption Statistics, 2008, <http://www.
The first recorded incident of anti-abortion violence was an arson attack on an Oregon abortion
clinic which occurred in March 1976, within three years of Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion.
The perpetrator of the first attack was Joseph C. Stockett, who was convicted and imprisoned for two
This three year between Roe and the first attack provided a gestation time for the movement, which
would become increasingly active over the next few years and even more so in the 1980s and 1990s. It was
the same year that anti-abortion Republican Henry Hyde’s ‘Hyde Amendment’, which bars the use of
federal funds to pay for abortion, was passed. Anti-abortion violence increased in the following two years
with four arson attacks in 1977 and three arson attacks and four bombing in 1978.
The following year, on
February 15 1979, the first abortion clinic that opened post-Roe, located in Hempstead, New York, was the
target of an arson attack by Peter Burkin.
Burkin was tried and acquitted of attempted murder and arson
and found not guilty of arson and reckless endangerment by reason of insanity.
Up until this point, all
attacks been perpetrated by individuals and had targeted clinics, but in 1982 the first attack on an individual
took place, as did the first appearance of the Army of God. Using the Army of God moniker, Don Benny
Anderson, Wayne and Matthew Moore kidnapped abortion provider Dr. Hector Zevellos and his wife in
Granite City, Illinois. The victims were not killed and were released after a week, while Anderson was
caught and convicted for kidnapping, as well as three unrelated clinic bombings in Florida and Virginia.
The year 1984 saw a significant increase in attacks, with twenty-five bombings and arson attacks
that year alone, and was named the ‘Year of Fear and Pain’ by Joseph Scheidler’s Pro-Life Action
Amongst the string of attacks were more appearances by the Army of God. Michael Bray,
author of A Time To Kill and suspected author of the Army of God Manual, along with Thomas Eugene
Spinks and Kenneth William Shields, carried out eight bombings in Virginia, DC, Maryland and Delaware,
using the ‘Army of God’ moniker in the Virginia attack.
It appeared again on a death threat sent to
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmum, author of the Roe v. Wade decision that gave birth to these very
tactics, as well as a series of other bombings.
The year ended with the ‘Christmas Bombings’ in
Pensacola, Florida on Dec 25th, timed for Christ’s birthday and named the ‘Gideon Project’ after the Old
Testament story of Gideon which provides the theological underpinning of much anti-abortion violence.
These bombings, which were the focus of Blanchard and Prewitt’s 1993 book Abortion and Religious
Violence: The Gideon Project, were committed by the ‘Pensacola Four’, James and Karen Simmons,
Matthew Goldsby and Kaye Wiggans, who were convicted for the bombings and conspiracy.
progressed with John Brockhoeft’s 1988 bombing of a clinic also in Pensacola, Florida and ended with his
NAF, History of Violence, 2008, <http://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence.asp>.
Blanchard and Prewitt, Religious Violence and Abortion, p. 185.
NAF, ‘History of Violence’.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence’; Blanchard and Prewitt, ibid, pp. 188-189).
Blanchard and Prewitt, Religious Violence and Abortion, p. 195.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence’.
Mason, Killing for Life, p. 21.
Blanchard and Prewitt, Religious Violence and Abortion, pp. 3-7.
bombing of another clinic in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1990, for which he was convicted, imprisoned and
honored when the anti-abortion ‘Brockhoeft Report’ was named after him.
The 1990s were the most violent period of anti-abortion activism. The decade not only saw the
extremist wing of the movement become increasingly violent and radicalized, but brazen and
confrontational in their threats, public statements and engagement with the government. What was also
notable during this period was that the movement developed and radicalized not initially in response to
specific legal or political developments. In fact, Sara Diamond argues that President George HW Bush’s
failure to achieve major policy changes on abortion and thus appease the Christian Right base of both his
support and that of his party, led to increased frustration across the movement and had an influence on the
increase in both vandalism and violence.
This would change as the decade went on and Clinton
antagonized the movement with his pro-choice position and legislation designed protect abortion provision
and providers and control anti-abortion protests and violence (to which I will return after outlining the
incidents which led to such legislation). While the lack of specific anti-abortion political and legal
developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s under Bush Sr. did influence the movement and inform its
increased violence, greater radicalization and mobilization of the movement centered around internal
developments, most notably in support of activists who had committed attacks. The first attack of the 1990s
was also the first assassination of an abortion provider, that of Dr. David Gunn by Michael Griffin on
March 10 1993 in Pensacola, Florida.
It was in response to the Gunn’s murder and Griffin’s trial, that
Paul Hill issued his ‘Defensive Action Statement’ with its argument for ‘justifiable homicide’, signed by
Hill, Bray and thirty-two others.
The statement read:
“We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend
innocent human life including the use of force. We proclaim that whatever force is
legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn
child. We assert that if Michael Griffin did in fact kill David Gunn, his use of lethal force
was justifiable provided it was carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of
unborn children. Therefore, he ought to be acquitted of the charges against him.”
In another response, Joseph Sheidler held a summit in Chicago for anti-abortion leaders which led
to the formation of the American Coalition of Life Activists.
Soon after the murder of Gunn, in August
1993, Rachelle ‘Shelly’ Shannon, an Oregon housewife committed a series of arson and acid attacks on
clinics and wounded Dr George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas in an attempted assignation.
Blanchard. The Anti-Abortion Movement and the Rise of the Religious Right, p. 100.
Diamond, Roads to Dominion, p. 229.
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, p. 41; Clarkson, 1998b; Juergensmeyer, Terror in the
Mind of God, p. 136.
SPLC, ‘Justifiable Homicide’: The Signers’, Intelligence Report, Summer 1998,
<http://www.splcenter.org/= int/ intelreport/article.jsp?sid+292>.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence’.
Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, pp. 21 and 136.
Due to the fact that Tiller was one of the few to practice ‘late term abortions’, a particular target of
mainstream, militant and extremist anti-abortion activists, he was a frequent target of enmity, threats and
attacks, before finally being killed by Roeder in 2009. In 1981, Tiller was the target of the 45-day ‘Summer
of Mercy’ protest organized by Operation Rescue, as well as oppositional legal strategies.
In March 2009,
just prior to his murder, Tiller was on trial for failing to obtain a second independent opinion that a ‘late
term’ abortion he undertook was necessary as required by Kansas law. The fact that Tiller was not
convicted was a likely factor in his eventual murder. It is important to note that so-called ‘late term
abortion’, which typically takes place after 20-21 weeks and is used in cases of rape, incest and maternal
health issues, and foetal viability and photos of aborted foetuses were frequently evoked and represented by
the movement as ‘partial birth abortions’ in order to outrage the public, put pressure on pro-choice activists
to justify them and pressure the state to outlaw the practice and thereby scale back or further limit abortion
It was the following year, on July 29 1994, that Hill applied his ‘Justifiable Homicide’ argument
assassinated Dr. John Britton and James Barrett at The Ladies Center clinic in Pensacola, Florida.
Michael Bray, who had been released from prison in 1989, served as public spokesperson for both Shannon
That same year, defrocked Catholic priest and founder of Life Enterprises Unlimited, Fr. David
Trosch, made sent a letter to Congress promising a period of ‘massive’ killing of not only abortion
providers, abortion rights groups, women’s rights groups, and the manufacturers of intra-uterine devices
and the morning-after pill, but the President, Attorney General and Supreme Court Justices,
the battle to the government and back to the courts where Roe was decided. The anti-government enmity,
strategy and threat was shared by Missionaries to the Preborn leader Matthew Trewhella in his call for the
formation of militias at the United States Tax Payers Party convention in Wisconsin and organization of
firearms training for activists.
The year ended in December with attacks on two Brookline Massachusetts
abortion clinics in which two people were killed and five wounded by John Salvi.
The 1990s witnessed not only the highest levels of anti-abortion violence, but the emergence and
growth of the anti-government patriot and militia movements that anti-abortion activists such as Trewhella
were establishing links with, and the Oklahoma City bombing which brought anti-government domestic
terrorism to national attention. According to experts, by the end of the 1990s, anti-abortion terrorism had
alienated the more mainstream non-violent activists, leading to a decline in their ranks and the increasing
radicalization of the extremists.
Both of these developments can be seen as been influenced by the
government’s response to both anti-abortion and extreme right terrorism during the decade. The first major
The Washington Times, ‘Doctor’s late-term case set for trial’, The Washington Times.com, March 15
Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, p. 21.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Extremists’.
Durham, The Christian Right, the Far Right and the Boundaries of American Conservatism, p. 99.
Mason, Killing for Life, p. 66.
Clarkson, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence’. .
piece of legislation passed under Clinton was the Freedom of Clinic Entrances Act of 1994 which
prosecuted any protest that impeded clinic access, and by effect criminalized many popular protest tactics.
That same year, the Attorney General Janet Reno established the Task Force on Violence Against Abortion
Providers (VAAPCON) to investigate whether there was a nationwide ‘conspiracy’ to commit acts of
violence against abortion and reproductive health providers. The following year, Clinton and the US
Attorneys established local task forces to coordinate law enforcement efforts to deal with clinic violence.
With such government action coming on the back of government sieges at Ruby Ridge and Waco,
it was not difficult for the anti-abortion movement to feel paranoid about a government conspiracy against
them, something that further linked them to the anti-government extreme right and militia movement. With
the Oklahoma City bombing occurring in April that year, wider domestic terrorism became a matter of
national focus and urgency. In response, Senate Subcommittee hearings were held in 1995-6 on Combating
Domestic Terrorism, The Militia Movement in the United States and The Nature and Threat of Violent Anti-
Government Groups in America.
In addition to these hearings, Congress passed the 1995 Antiterrorism
Bill, which became the 1996 Antiterrorism Act.
By the end of the decade, clinic access issues were still a
concern and New York State’s 1999 clinic access legislation went further than the national act by covering
That same year, Planned Parenthood against the American Coalition of Life
Activists (with Neal Horsley included as a co-conspirator) in response to threats and acts of violence
against abortion providers that could be linked to the Nuremburg Files. The court found that the content of
the website did constitute a threat of violence and the Portland, Oregon jury awarded the plaintiffs a
settlement of $107,000,000. In addition to this, as previously mentioned, the Nuremburg Files were also
shut down on grounds that it encouraged violence against abortion providers,
The American Coalition of
Life Activists appealed the court decision in 2001 and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned it, ruling
that the content of the Nuremburg Files was protected speech and the authors and forum could not be held
responsible for harm caused by an unrelated third party.
This was subsequently appealed and in an en
banc hearing, the 9th Circuit ruled that the American Coalition of Life Activists could be held liable.
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, pp. 87 and 125.
United States Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division, ‘National Task Force on Violence Against
Health Care Providers: Report on Federal Efforts to Prevent and Prosecute Clinic Violence 1998-2000’,
United States Government, Combating Domestic Terrorism, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime, of
the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 104th Congress, First Session, May 3, 1995; The
Militia Movement in the United States, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and
Government Information, of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 104th Congress, First
Session, Sept. 6-8,12, 14-15, 19-22 and 26, and Oct. 13 and 18-19, 1995; Nature and Threat of Violent Anti-
Government Groups In America, Hearing before the Subcommittee on Crime of the Committee on the
Judiciary, House of Representatives, 104th Congress, First Session, November 2, 1995.
David Cole and Jack X. Dempsey, Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the
Name of National Security (New York: The New Press, 2002), p. 113.
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, p. 125.
Ibid. p. 88.
Regarding the relationship between anti-abortion radicalization and violence and government
political positions and legal actions such as those listed above, there is much debate. According to Dallas
Blanchard, the level of violence is influenced by the political context and the position, statements and
actions of administration in power. Blanchard compares anti-abortion violence under Reagan and Carter
who was pro-choice, and argues that Reagan’s anti-abortion position, policies and lack of condemnation for
bombings legitimized the cause and tactics, which can account for the higher levels of violence under
Christopher Hewitt disagrees with Blanchard, citing strong anti-abortion legislation during Carter’s
and Bush Sr.’s presidencies and lower rates of violence. He also cites an example of the opposite case, the
rise in violence coinciding with Clinton’s pro-choice position, legislation and actions, including the
Freedom of Access legislation and Justice Department probe. While Hewitt believes this negates
Blanchard’s thesis, he is only focusing on one side of the causal dynamic, approval of the cause and not a
possible backlash. More specifically, both state support for the anti-abortion cause, as well as opposition to
it, can inform or create the conditions for violence. This because the former legitimizes the movement
cause, the latter threatens, antagonizes and motivates it. Although it is important to note that while
examples can inform and illustrate a hypothesis, not all cases or examples will back-up the hypothesis, but
they should not be taken to disprove it. This is due to the fact that other factors, such as religion as Hewitt
points out, play a role in anti-abortion violence and the state is not the causal or determining factor across
The backlash against and further radicalization of both the extreme right and anti-abortion
violence, as well as increasing overlap between the two movements in the mid- to late 1990s, made it not
altogether surprising that the next wave of attacks came from the intersection between them and targeted a
variety of shared enemies. The most notable example, as discussed previously, was Eric Rudolph who was
responsible, and sentenced to life in 2005, for the bombing of an abortion clinic in Sandy Springs, Georgia
which injured seven people on January 16 1997; the nail bombing of the New Woman All Woman clinic in
Birmingham, Alabama on January 29 1998, which injured nurse Emily Lyons and the first bombing
fatality, guard Robert Sanderson,
both of which The Army of God claimed responsibility for.
addition to these anti-abortion attacks, Rudolph was also responsible for the bombing of the Atlanta
Olympic Park and an Atlanta lesbian bar.
At the same time as Rudolph’s attacks, in 1998 James Kopp
assassinated Dr. Barnett Slepian. Like Rudolph, Kopp spent several years on the run and was included on
the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List before being brought to trial in 2003.
As mentioned previously, a letter
of support for Kopp was posted on the Army of God website and his lawyer attempted to turn the trial into
a public debate on the concept and defense of ‘Justifiable Homicide’, but Kopp pled guilty and received
Ibid. p. 39.
Mason, Killing for Life, p. 27.
Blejwas, et al., ‘Terror From the Right’.
SPLC, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence: Five years later, ‘Atomic Dog’ caged for good’,
Intelligence Report, Summer 2003, <http://www.splcenter.org/int/intelreport/article.jsp?aid+62>.
twenty-five years to life.
Kopp was also sentenced to a second life term in June 2007 on federal charges
for violating the Federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act passed by Clinton, and was a suspect
in shootings of doctors in Vancouver, Winnipeg and Hamilton in Canada.
It was also in response to
Slepian’s murder and other attacks on abortion providers, that Attorney General Janet Reno established the
National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers in 1998.
When George W. Bush became President of the United States in 2000, having run as a born again
Christian on a pro-life platform, it was assumed by both sides of the debate that he would represent the
interests of the anti-abortion movement and not antagonize them politically, ideologically and legally as
Clinton had. The logical implication of this was, in some minds, that anti-abortion militancy and violence
would go into decline, particularly following 9/11 as the right became unified behind the administration
and terrorism became anathema to the nation. Yet, immediately following the attacks, mainstream Christian
Right and anti-abortion leader, and founder of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell issued the following
"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and
the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU,
People for the American Way — all of them who have tried to secularize America — I
point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"
While Falwell blamed Islamist terrorism on abortion, on the anti-abortion terrorism front, in February 2001
escaped convict Clayton Lee Wagner, sent over five hundred fake anthrax letters signed by the Army of
God to abortion clinics and posted death threats against forty-two providers on the internet.
to this, Wagner claimed responsibility for the anthrax sent to congressional offices and media outlets
Wagner was arrested in December 2001, convicted and sentenced to fifty years in prison
on weapons, theft and escape charges, and in 2003, an additional fifty-one federal terror charges.
almost six years into the war on terror, on April 25 2007, Paul Ross Evans attempted to bomb the Austin
Women’s Health Center in Texas. When Evens was arrested, the Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force found
him in possession of the addresses of other potential targets, including a stem cell researcher, a
pornography company and the Austin-based attorney who argued Roe v. Wade,
and formative significance of the case to anti-abortion terrorists.
On April 7 2009, soon after the inauguration of Barack Obama, the United States Department of
Homeland Security: Threat Analysis Division (USDHS), originally formed in the wake of 9/11, issued the
SPLC, ‘Anti-Abortion Violence: Would-Be Clinic Bomber Gets 40 Years’; NAF,
‘History of Violence’.
United States Department of Justice: Civil Rights Division, ‘National Task Force on Violence Against
Health Care Providers’.
Blejwas, et al., ‘Terror From the Right’.
Mason, Killing for Life, p. 52.
Blejwas, et al, ‘Terror From the Right’; Mason, ibid. p. 51.
Blejwas, et al. ibid.
report Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in
Radicalization and Recruitment. The report argued that the economic downturn, the election of the first
African-American president, gun control legislation and returning military veterans presented ‘unique
drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment’, including both organized and lone wolf attacks.
Although focused on hate-based racist and anti-government groups and widely criticized by the right as a
liberal attack on conservatives, its publication was followed by several attacks, including the murder of Dr.
George Tiller by Roeder in May 2009. The response to the murder was surprisingly mixed in the context of
eight years of a war on terror, particularly considering the conservative support for the war and rhetoric
about extremism and terrorism.
The mainstream anti-abortion movement had three mains responses. The first was condemnation
from major organizations such as Americans United for Life, which issued the following statement by
‘We condemn this lawless act of violence. The foundational right to life that our work is
dedicated to extends to everyone. Whoever is responsible for this reprehensible violence
must be brought to justice under the law.’
In defense of the movement against negative press and the implication of complicity, on the day
after the murder on June 1, Yoest also issued the statement that ‘Roeder is most definitely not part of the
The second response was to condemn the murder, but displace the act and violence onto causes
and actors other than the anti-abortion movement, including abortion providers and patients. The best
example of this is the response from Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life:
‘I am saddened to hear of the killing of George Tiller this morning. At this point, we do
not know the motives of this act, or who is behind it, whether an angry post-abortive man
or woman, or a misguided activist, or an enemy within the abortion industry, or a political
enemy frustrated with the way Tiller has escaped prosecution. We should not jump to any
conclusions or rush to judgment’.
The third response was to express understanding and continue to attack Tiller and ‘late-term
abortion’. The most prominent example of this came from Bill O’Reilly and Fox News, which went so far
as to say that ‘Pro-life Groups Fear Backlash After Tiller Murder’.
United States Department of Homeland Security: Threat Analysis Division, Rightwing Extremism: Current
Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. April 7 2009
(Federation of American Scientists website), <www.fas.org/irp/eprint/rightwing.pdf>.
Time.com, ‘Right-Wing Reactions to Tiller Murder’, Time.com, May 31 2009,
Time.com, ‘Scott Roeder: The Tiller Murder Suspect’, Time.com, June 2009,
Militant and extremist anti-abortion activists also expressed understanding of the attack, attacked
Tiller and supported Roeder in statements and through fundraising for his defense, including the later
suspended sale of art and memorabilia, including an Army of God Manual, on eBay. One quote from the
militant wing came from its most high profile leader Randall Terry of Operation Rescue, which had a
‘Tiller Watch’ feature on its website:
‘George Tiller was a mass murderer. We grieve for him that he did not have time to
properly prepare his soul to face God. I am more concerned that the Obama
administration will use Tiller’s killing to intimidate pro-lifers into surrendering our most
effective rhetoric and actions’.
In spite of this and ‘Tiller Watch’, Operation Rescue President Troy Newman issued a statement
immediately following the murder on June 1 2009, that: ‘Scott Roeder has never been a member,
contributor, or volunteer with Operation rescue.’
The return of anti-abortion violence, as well as mainstream and more militant anti-abortion
activism, and the expression of understanding if not support for violence and Roeder himself were not
altogether surprising and could be linked to four factors in the context of (and corresponding to) the
election of Barack Obama, who issued a statement condemning the attack almost immediately following it.
The first factor is the perceived threat posed to the conservative slant to the Supreme Court due to several
likely retirements and new appointments made by Obama who would most likely uphold Roe v. Wade
against a challenge to it. The second factor is Obama’s health care reform which has led to increasing
debate about and opposition to federal government involvement in health care and medical provision,
particularly regarding abortion and whether it will be covered and funded, whether tax payers will have to
pay for it, and whether states, employers, insurers and doctors will have the right to opt out of guaranteeing,
paying for or providing abortion. The third factor is the increasingly conservative backlash and
radicalization, in the form of the Tea Party movement and others, following the Republican loss in the 2008
election. It is a movement and radicalization that has stoked fears about the threat posed by Obama in terms
of big government and liberty, gun control, the constitution, healthcare and abortion rights and has taken
the form of greater militant rhetoric and activism, civil disobedience, threats and the increasing
convergence of mainstream, militant and extremist activists in the anti-abortion and wider conservative
movement. The fourth and final factor is that since the days of Roe v. Wade, abortion has become the third
rail of American politics. With increasing public opposition to abortion and the ability of the Republicans
(and Tea Party) to mobilize that opposition, the Democrats have been afraid to defend abortion for fear of
alienating more socially conservative voters and losing support for legislation such as healthcare, and there
has also been less pressure for the mainstream anti-abortion movement to denounce violence and
Time.com, ‘Right-Wing Reactions to Tiller Murder’
Time.com, ‘Scott Roeder’.
Fears by politicians about alienating voters (particularly in close races, polarized contexts and
when searching for a popular mandate) can be partially understood if one considers public opinion on
abortion and changes to it in the thirty years since Roe v. Wade in 1973. According to Gallup, the 1980s
and 1990s saw public opinion move toward a pro-choice position. That trend peaked in 1992, with 34% of
Americans saying abortion should be legal in all cases and 13% saying it should be completely banned
(opinions that support an absolutist position of legality or illegality are referred to as ‘extreme’ positions in
this poll, but this does not mean that those who hold such positions are ‘extreme’ or ‘extremist’ in terms of
their ideology or activism).
In 1996-1997, those holding a so-called ‘extreme’ pro-choice position fell
from 34% to 22% and those holding the ‘extreme’ anti-abortion position rose from 13% to 17%, while an
increasing number took the so-called ‘middle position’ which holds that abortion should be legal under
certain circumstances, a position which peaked at 61% in 1997.
The decrease in support for full legality
and increase in support for both this middle position and a complete ban could be explained by a number of
factors. The most notable being the increasing conservatism that developed in America since the 1960s and
1970s and emerged in the 1990s in the context of the culture wars and the effects of the abortion wars in
which anti-abortion activists increasingly used tactics, such as publicizing and opposing the practice of so-
called ‘late term’ or ‘partial birth’ abortion, to establish a range of new conditions and limits of
acceptability and thus chip away at public support for and the legal protection of abortion and women’s
reproductive rights. It is also worth noting that the numbers of those holding the ‘extreme’ liberal pro-
choice position peaked in the early 1990s and declined in the latter half of the decade, after a peak in
violence. By the 2000s, Gallup found that approximately 26% of Americans say that abortion should be
legal in all cases, 56% say it should be legal in certain cases and 17% that it should be illegal in all cases.
A person’s religion, region, gender, age, political ideology and party affiliation greatly influence their
position, with more conservative religious individuals being more likely to oppose the legality of abortion.
Unfortunately, there are no national polls on support for anti-abortion extremism and violence, but
according to a survey by J. Guth and cited by Hewitt, there is evidence of support amongst Protestant and
Catholic organizations for more militant organizations such as Operation Rescue and their strategies.
In response to both Republican and Tea Party (as well as some ‘Blue Dog Democrat’) pressure
and liberal democrat fears of losing the health care vote, the abortion provision was removed from the
healthcare bill (H.R. 4872) when Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and Health
Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 in March 2010, and less than a month later Roeder was
sentenced to fifty years in prison for the murder. While justice was served to Roeder for the crime, the fact
that the abortion provision was taken out of the bill following the murder and prior to the vote, and the
increasing overlap of the mainstream, militant and extremist wings of the anti-abortion movement around
Lydia Saad, Public Opinion About Abortion: An In-Depth Review, January 22 2002,
Hewitt, Understanding Terrorism in America, p. 38-39.
this issue, raises some serious questions. Firstly, if abortion is legal, but abortion rights, provision and
access are scaled back or limited in response to pressure that includes violence, does this mean that
violence has become more legitimate than the law on abortion or that terrorism influenced the democratic
process? Secondly, if the mainstream anti-abortion movement fails to condemn terrorism or even benefits
politically from the threat and pressure of extremism and violence, are they complicit? Finally, what do
these developments and relationships say about the distinction between mainstream, militant and extremist
anti-abortion activism? These are questions that demand answers and, as the debate and battle over abortion
develops and transforms, research and analysis.
The author would like to thank George Michael, Jeffrey Ian Ross and Alexandra Kokoli for their support