(WOMENSENEWS)--At a time when the nation is obsessed with anthrax threats and real anthrax, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has finally decided to make investigating and punishing perpetrators of the national wave of anthrax threats to abortion clinics a top priority and assigned the investigation to their counter terrorism unit.
Anthrax threats to clinics have come in two waves since September 11th. In the first, some 250 clinics received letters accompanied by white powder claiming that the recipients had been exposed to anthrax. A second wave of anthrax threats arrive at over 200 abortion rights organizations and clinics nationwide on Thursday, in Federal Express letters. The National Abortion Federation was also evacuated in response to a bomb threat. The abortion rights organizations that received anthrax threats included the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, and the Boston-based Abortion Access Project. The National Abortion Federation and Planned Parenthood Federation of America were falsely listed as the senders of the packages. Many of them included letters from the Army of God.
The FedExed threats come at a time when investigators are turning their attention to domestic white supremacist terrorists as possible suspects in first wave of anthrax threats as well as those who have targeted media and lawmakers with real anthrax according to federal law enforcement officials who have spoken to national news organizations on condition of anonymity.
Some in the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement are concerned; this isn't a good time to be linked in the public's mind with Middle East terrorism. Ex-convict and Army of God member Joshua Graff has called for a "temporary Cease Fire in our war on the baby killers." He has expressed concern that "One or more of us has tried to capitalize on the national fear, and while I applaud the sentiment, by doing so they may well have left a deep association between us and that scumbag bin Laden."
Meanwhile the Attorney General John Ashcroft, an anti-choice Republican, has so far avoided speaking directly about the anthrax threats to clinics and has not met with alarmed abortion providers, preferring to delegate such matters to subordinates.
Originally, most officials assumed that the letters sent on to government and the media were the work of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network and that the threatening mailings to clinics were the routine, if opportunistic work of violent anti-abortion groups.
FBI and Justice Department sources have told reporters that the anthrax attacks on media outlets and government buildings may be the work of domestic neo-Nazi groups. In a typical account, a Justice Department official told the London Observer "we have to see the right wing as much better coordinated than its apparent disorganization suggests. And we have to presume that their opposition to government is just as virulent as that of the Islamic terrorists, if not as accomplished."
Since Oct. 15, almost 500 anthrax threats have now been mailed to abortion rights organizations and clinics nationwide. Before that, abortion clinics had received about 80 mailed anthrax threats since 1998.
So far, none of the envelopes containing anthrax threats has tested positive for anthrax.
The October round of threatening mailings to women's health centers contained a white powder and a note that read: "You have been exposed to anthrax. We are going to kill all of you. Army of God, Virginia DARE [sic] Chapter." The envelopes had false return addresses from law enforcement agencies, including the "U.S. Secret Service" and the "U.S. Marshall Service," and were marked: "TIME SENSITIVE: Urgent Security Notice Enclosed."
This suggests to Tracy Sefl, a sociologist at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and an expert on the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement, that the senders have a sophisticated knowledge of clinic security matters. She says, for example, the first wave of mailings, which she has examined, are shrewdly presented, "right down to the correctness of the look of the envelopes, the clinics' names spelled out properly, nothing crude." "This is not a crazed, ragged, fiery eyed bunch," she said in an interview. Rather she, says in light of the second, FedExed letters, they seem to be increasing in their "fluency," in clinic security. She points to "the way they are able to draw upon resources, such as getting the air bills and the account numbers to perpetuate this fraud."
"And with increasing fluency," she concludes, "comes an increasing urgency to crack this."
Events have moved fast since the anthrax terror-by-letter campaign began. The FBI point man on the anthrax threat, Ruben Garcia, has met with security staff from the National Abortion Federation, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Feminist Majority Foundation. The FBI says it is intensifying its investigation; assigning the cases to a special unit of its domestic terrorism division and is coordinating the investigation out of its Philadelphia field office.
Ann Glazier, director of clinic security at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, is pleased with these developments, especially since the sophistication of the Army of God tactics has grown. "Someone has the ability to carry out massive letter campaigns by mail," she said. "Law enforcement needs to learn how to catch them quickly."
"The problem," she said in an interview prior to the latest round of threats, "is that we are a FedEx society and anything can be delivered by 10 a.m. And I think it's to our great disadvantage if we don't take these kinds of things very seriously."
Glazier is concerned that many Americans, don't believe that "domestic terrorists could be smart or have money. It's so much easier for our psyche," she says, "if we label them as dolts working out of a little shack in the woods, boiling-up their anthrax in a black cauldron."
This is not the first time officialdom has turned from the Middle East to the heartland to determine who is behind acts of terror on American soil.
After the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, the theory that the attack originated in the Middle East quickly evaporated following the arrest of Tim McVeigh. Investigative attention then turned to neo-Nazi and militia groups. Investigations into anti-abortion violence during the same time period unearthed many interconnections among different stripes of the violent wing of the far right.
American neo-Nazis have long sought to destabilize the U.S. government. Some groups have used the neo-Nazi novel, "The Turner Diaries," as a blueprint. The novel depicts how the blowing up of a federal building provided the catalyst for a race war in the U.S. - and is believed to have inspired Tim McVeigh.
Now, neo-Nazi leaders are praising the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The National Alliance's Billy Roper, wrote for example: "The enemy of our enemy is, for now at least, our friends. . .anyone who is willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is all right by me."
Pastor August B. Kreis, denounced the "war against Islamic Freedom Fighters" in a posting on the web site of the Aryan Nations, and warned "Be prepared folks, for the blood is soon to run deep here in the streets of America. . .Hail HIS Victory!"
Although the Army of God has waged a 20-year campaign of bombings, arsons and assassinations against abortion providers before the advent of the anthrax letter threats, no one had ever heard of a Virginia Dare chapter of the Army of God. Virginia Dare was the first white child born in the New World in 1587. Nevertheless, Army of God spokesman Rev. Donald Spitz has said that while he doesn't know who is responsible for the anthrax threats, he called it a "great idea."
In fact, leading white supremacists have long advocated and endorsed anti-abortion violence. The most famous example is Eric Rudolph, who has been indicted in the pipe bombing of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, as well as the pipe bombing explosions at two abortion clinics and a gay bar. He has been on the FBI's Most Wanted List since 1998. Letters claiming responsibility for some of the crimes were signed, "Army of God."
Pastor August B. Kreis a leader of the white supremacist, tax protest network called the Posse Comitatus declared Rudolph "is of the Identity faith. If he has done what the jewsmedia/government [sic] has been accusing him of. . .he did it in the name of Our Glorious Father YHVH! He knew exactly what needed doing and he did it."
The Aryan Nations' web site currently links directly to the Army of God web site run by Rev. Donald Spitz, Army of God spokesman.
Frederick Clarkson has reported on the intersection of religion and politics for 20 years. He recently received the Leo J. Ryan Education Foundation's 2001 Media Award for his writings on "fundamentalist and cult intrusion into politics and society." He is the author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy," Common Courage Press, 1997.
To read another Women's Enews article by Frederick Clarkson:
"Anti-Abortion Escapee Joins Bin Laden on FBI List" (Septemer 28, 2001):
For more information:
Federal Bureau of Investigation:
Army of God: http://www.armyofgod.com/Claytonnewpaper.html
Aryan Nations: http://www.aryan-nations.org/
Feminist Majority Foundation: http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbyte/uswirestory.asp?id=5902
Planned Parenthood Federation of America: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
Political Research Associates: http://www.publiceye.org/
"Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy," by Frederick Clarkson