By Frederick Clarkson
Friday, March 30, 2001
Those who advocate the murder of abortion doctors are labeled as kooks, zealots, extremists, and fringe characters. Some may be, but there is a 20-year record of arson, bombings and murder, as well as calls for a violent, theocratic revolution.
(WOMENSENEWS)--The arrest on Thursday in Paris of the prime suspect in the murder of a New York state abortion doctor and the wounding of three others in Canada has opened a rare window on the violent aboveground and underground anti-abortion network of arsonists, bombers, assassins and those who support and shelter them.
The day before the arrest, on Wednesday, the federal Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that a Web site and "wanted" posters calling abortion doctors "baby butchers," including the slain New York state doctor, are protected by the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech. The Web site, the Nuremberg Files, which targeted Dr. Barnett Slepian, did not constitute a specific threat, the justices said, although others argued that its message was equivalent to shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater, an act not protected by the constitution.
The arrested man, James Kopp, 46, had been on the FBI's Most Wanted List for allegedly firing the sniper's bullet that killed Dr. Slepian, an abortion provider, as he stood in the kitchen of his home near Buffalo, N.Y., on Oct. 23, 1998. His family was there and witnessed his death. The doctor's name was crossed out on the Web site shortly after the murder.
As the story of Kopp's arrest unfolds and as he stands trial for murder and related charges, many elements will emerge about the violent anti-abortion underground that facilitated his alleged career as an assassin. He has also been charged in the "Remembrance Day" shootings of three Canadian doctors, beginning with Dr. Garson Romalis in 1994. Remembrance Day memorializes Canadian war veterans and has been adopted by the anti-abortion movement as a day to highlight their concerns.
Prior to Kopp's alleged career as a sniper, he served as the advance man, or intelligence operative, for the militant Operation Rescue-style Catholic direct action group, Lambs of Christ, headed by Fr. Norman Weslin. In 1992 Weslin told a reporter "unless you understand that this is a colossal war between Jesus Christ and Satan, you don't understand what we are doing."
Kopp was present at pivotal episodes in the history of militant anti-abortion activism. He has been arrested in connection with numerous clinic blockades, including a major blockade of The Ladies Center in Pensacola. Fla., in 1986. It was later the site of the first known murder of an abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn, by local clinic protestor Michael Griffin.
Coincidentally, another window into the anti-abortion underground is opening in the form of a major new HBO documentary, "Soldiers in the Army of God," premiering Sunday, April 1, at 10 p.m. EDT, and repeating twice next week.
For two decades, Army of God, an underground and largely Protestant network comprised of saboteurs, arsonists, and assassins have waged war against abortion providers.
At once shocking, compelling and beautifully made, the film is essentially the national television debut for the aboveground spokesmen and spokeswomen of the Army of God.
The film follows the mentoring relationship of long haul trucker and Army of God recruiter Bob Lokey, of Opp, Alabama, and 19-year-old Jonathan O'Toole of Kansas City, Mo., who says he is seeking the most "radical" and "terroristic" anti-abortion group he can find.
The film follows his personal journey, visiting Army of God members at home, meeting them on the Internet, traveling in their cars and trucks, watching news reports of clinic violence on TV, participating in clinic demonstrations, discussing women and God, socializing and displaying their new flag at a Memorial Day picnic last year.
For a time, O'Toole works on the Nuremberg Files Web site as an apprentice to Neil Horsley the creator of the site. Horsley explains the role of the Nuremberg Files and the threat of violence, even civil war, as a means of political extortion.
"If the American people woke up," he explains to an enthusiastic Lokey and O'Toole, "and realized that they had to choose between legalized abortion, legalized homosexuality and legalized all the rest of the desecration or civil war which would cause the rivers to run red with blood--hey, you know we will see legalized abortion go like that! We'll see legalized homosexuality go like that! Because the American people," he concludes, "are not willing to die for homosexuals."
Horsley says the Nuremberg Files lists about 100 names of abortion providers along with their home and office addresses and other personal information. Many have argued that it functions as a hit list and a road map for would be assassins. "Names in black," Horsley explains in the film, "are people who are working.
"The grayed-out names are people who have been wounded. And the strike-throughs, like Dr. Slepian, are people who have been killed."
Pointing to Slepian's crossed-out name on his computer screen, Horsley recalls his reaction to the murder: "When I drew a line through his name, I said 'See, I told ya. There's another one. How many more is it gonna take?"
"The evidence is at hand," he concludes. "There are people out there who (will) go out and blow their brains out."
In another notable episode, Lokey and O'Toole travel to Bowie, Md., to attend the annual White Rose Banquet, which honors and raises money for the families of men and women in jail for anti-abortion violence. (The name is misappropriated from a German Nazi resistance group.)
There they meet convicted clinic arsonists John Brockhoeft and Joshua Graff, as well as the boyishly handsome Rev. Michael Bray who hosts the event. Bray is the convicted mastermind of a series of seven clinic bombings in the early 1980s, as well as the fire bombing of the Washington offices of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Federation, He is a published theorist of theocratic revolution. He spent four years in federal prison for his crimes.
Lokey brags to Bray that he just trucked 45,000 pounds of explosive ingredient ammonium nitrate into the Washington, D.C., area. Acutely conscious of the camera, Bray blanches and invites Lokey to sample the hors d'oeurves.
O'Toole comes to view Paul Hill, convicted the gory 1994 shotgun murders of Dr. John Britton and escort James Barrett at the Pensacola clinic, as a martyr and a role model. Hill smiles eerily in a death row interview from Florida State Prison, as he explains that God called him to kill Dr. Britton, and that he was trying to set a good example for others.
Lokey has a billboard-size lawn sign that proclaims, "The U.S. Supreme Court Kills Babies Like This"--illustrated with posters of aborted fetuses. Repeatedly he calls for a civil war over legalized abortion and homosexuality.
In a taped interview with Secret Service agents, who visit out of concern for the safety of the President and the Supreme Court, Lokey says he would never hurt them, but that when the civil war comes, he really can't say what will happen. O'Toole says that the "next step is to arm ourselves in a militia, a real militia that has the power to resist the federal government."
Although these media savvy activists evidently gave what HBO calls "unprecedented access," in order to enhance the psychological warfare component of their campaign against abortion providers, the unblinking camera reveals much more than they intended.
Especially revealing is the obvious, deep and multifaceted misogyny displayed in a colloquy between Lokey and pal Neal Horsley in which they discuss how they, like the male duck in Horsley's yard, have been "vaginally defeated;" how Lokey circumcised himself while in prison and how God requires him to give up women.
A moving counterpoint is provided by courageous women and men whose lives have been affected by anti-abortion violence. There's June Barrett who was wounded when Paul Hill murdered her husband, James Barrett, along with Dr. Britton, and Linda Taggart, director of the Pensacola clinic where they were slain. There's Bill Caplinger who continues to escort at Taggart's clinic.
"Soldiers in the Army of God" is one of those rare documentaries that reminds us why good journalism is so essential to democracy.
Horsley, and others are quite clear in their public statements and their writings that the attacks on clinics and the murders of doctors are but warning shots in what they envision as an epochal, even an apocalyptic struggle at hand. Either Americans conform to their view of God's laws, or there will be a blood bath, they say. And there is no evidence that they are anything but dead serious.
This film will help us to understand the character of this growing network, even as the unfolding story of James Kopp and his cohort illuminate an additional dimension of the antidemocratic, antiabortion underground.
"Soldiers in the Army of God" is part of "America Undercover Sundays," produced by Daphne Pinkerson, Marc Levin, and Daniel Voll. It premiers on HBO on Sunday April 1, at 10 p.m. to 11:15 p.m. EDT. It will be repeated Wednesday, April 4, at midnight and Sunday, April 7, at 9:30a.m. EDT
Frederick Clarkson is the author of "Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy" and of the forthcoming, "Profiles In Terrorism: Twenty Years of Antiabortion Violence," both from Common Courage Press.