Extremists, 'Patriots' and racists converge
By Frederick Clarkson
Eric Robert Rudolph, the government says, bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., earlier this year, killing a police officer and partially blinding a nurse. Agents also want to question him about the bombings of an Atlanta area clinic and a lesbian bar, attacks which injured seven bystanders. And many suspect Rudolph of involvement in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing which killed one person and injured 100 others.
To many, these targets seem unrelated. But they are not.
More and more, anti-abortion extremists, white supremacist groups and the conspiracy-minded "Patriot" movement have come to share the same enemies list. Many in these previously separate movements agree that everything smacking of "one-worldism" -- the Olympics, the United Nations and any other global agency -- is part of a massive plot to subject Americans to tyranny. Activists in all three movements describe homosexuals as "sodomites," people who deserve capital punishment. And in the latest development, many of those involved in these groups are bitterly attacking abortion.
"Eric Rudolph is symbolic of this new merger," says Dallas Blanchard, chairman of the University of West Florida's sociology department in Pensacola. "Militia types have shown more and more interest in the abortion issue, while anti-abortionists are becoming more and more militant and allying themselves with the militia movement."
Since the early 1990s, Patriot and white supremacist groups have used mainstream issues like gun control and land and environmental regulation to draw people into their organizations. Now, they are taking up the banner of fighting abortion.
America's Invisible Empire, a Klan group, describes abortion as "America's greatest crime." White Aryan Resistance, another white supremacist group, calls for "future Aryan justice" for abortionists -- except in the case of non-white abortions. Leaders of the U.S. Taxpayers Party, a Patriot-linked group, have called for the death penalty for abortion doctors and even their patients. Neal Horsley, who has called on militias to seize nuclear weapons, posts on his Web site the names of and other details about more than 300 people he considers pro-abortion, demanding "Nuremberg" trials. The Michigan Militia has long been bitterly opposed to abortion, and other Patriot groups now take similar stands.
Taxes, driver's licenses and abortion
In many ways, the odyssey of Gordon Sellner epitomizes the evolution of militant anti-abortion ideology, its confluence with the Patriot movement and its growing confrontation with the federal government. When Sellner first heard about the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, he stopped paying taxes to a government "on the wrong side of God's law." Two decades later, the Montanan, who by then described himself as a constitutionalist Patriot, was wounded in a shootout with police who had pursued him since he shot a deputy in an earlier arrest attempt.
He is now serving a prison term of life plus 10 years.
Like Sellner, other militants opposed to abortion have moved over the years from protests to violence. Increasingly, they share a revolutionary approach with the hard core of the Patriot and white supremacist movements, seeking to replace democracy with theocracy -- a system in which one religion rules, and all other views are crushed.
This convergence of movements is evident nationwide.
Most recently, a Tennessee abortion activist repeatedly arrested in clinic invasions has begun converting a former Washington state lodge into a retreat for others who share his militant brand of religion. Allison Hall Grayson, who now calls himself a "Steward of the Church of Christ," is a friend of Paul Hill, convicted of killing an abortion doctor and his escort, The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review reported.
Grayson doesn't believe in license plates, driver's licenses, Social Security or public schools, the newspaper said. He supports armed militias. The registered agent for his corporation is tied to "common-law courts" and militia activities. His wife, Catherine, is a cartoonist for Life Advocate, an anti-abortion magazine that supports "justifiable homicide" and shares a post office box with the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA). Many ACLA directors have been outspoken in their support for the murderers of doctors.
Grayson's project, officials and observers say, is the latest evidence of the melding of the militant anti-abortion and antigovernment movements. But similar cases, some of them documented by Planned Parenthood, have cropped up around the nation recently.
Convergence: the connections
August Kreis and James Wickstrom, longtime leaders of the violently racist and anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus, recently put up an article on their Web site hailing Rudolph as "a true warrior of YHVH [God]." Wickstrom, a Michigan militia enthusiast who organized paramilitary training for the Posse during the 1980s, has served prison time for impersonating public officials and counterfeiting. Kreis, Wickstrom's Posse deputy, headed The Messiah's Militia in Pennsylvania. In their article, the men complain about the "several hundred JOG agents (jewish occupational government forces)" searching for Rudolph.
These kinds of ties reflect a basic fact about all three movements: Patriots, white supremacists and anti-abortion militants are all fueled by interpretations of religion.
The militant anti-abortion movement is driven by three different but overlapping theologies that motivate violence: Christian Reconstructionism, Christian Identity and apocalyptic Catholicism. To understand this movement's increased militancy and its goal of instituting a theocracy -- a goal that by definition means ending democracy -- it is necessary to examine these three ideological strands.
Reconstructionism and 'total confrontation'
Reconstructionism, which arose out of conservative splinters of mainstream Presbyterianism (Orthodox and Reformed), proposes contemporary use of the laws of Old Testament Israel, or "biblical Law," as the basis for "reconstructing" society under an explicitly theocratic government. High on the list of capital crimes, Reconstructionists say, is abortion, along with homosexuality and the "propagation of false doctrines."
The defining text of Reconstructionism is Institutes of Biblical Law, published in 1973 by Rousas John Rushdoony. In the 800-page explanation of the Ten Commandments and the biblical "case law" deriving from them, Rushdoony declares: "All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion. Every law-order is a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare."
Initially, Reconstructionism provided a theological argument for evangelical Christian involvement in politics. In subtle ways, it has undergirded the ideology of much of the broader Christian Right, influencing such leaders as televangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. Reconstructionism is the dominant ideological strain of the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party, headed by Rushdoony disciple Howard Phillips.
The late Francis Schaeffer, a Reformed Presbyterian, also was influenced by Reconstructionism. His widely distributed books and films of the 1970s and early 1980s are generally credited with providing an important catalyst for evangelical involvement in anti-abortion politics. Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, a charismatic evangelical, was originally inspired by Schaeffer, although within a few years he went beyond him. In 1988, Terry was personally tutored by a leading Reconstructionist thinker, Gary North, according to the recent book Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War, by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas.
'A time to kill'
Also in 1988, North wrote a book urging anti-abortion organizations to move beyond Schaefferism and forge a theocratic movement that might eventually force "a political and military" confrontation. Operation Rescue's "physical interposition" at clinics, he believed, was but the first step "in the philosophical war against political pluralism. &hellip Christian leaders can see where these protests may be headed, even if their followers cannot: to a total confrontation with the civilization of secular humanism."
The influence on Terry was obvious. By 1995, he was telling an Operation Rescue gathering that America must be governed by biblical law and that Christians may need to "take up the sword" and "overthrow the tyrannical regime that oppresses them.
Another Reconstructionist theorist is Rev. Michael Bray, the convicted mastermind behind a series of 1984 bombings in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. Bray's targets included clinics, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Abortion Federation, a trade association of abortion providers. Following a prison term, Bray published a 1990 paper entitled "Ethics of Operation Rescue," in which he argued that "Christians who rescue innocents from the slaughter are simply extending mercy."
Although Bray had not yet publicly endorsed vigilante murder of abortion providers, he did offer the Reconstructionist justification for revolution under "lesser magistrates" -- a doctrine under which biblical rebels need only enlist lower-level government officials in order to win divine sanction for political insurrection against government. Some leaders within the U.S. Taxpayers Party have embraced this doctrine.
Similar ideas, consistent with rising up under the authority of lower-level government officials over the issue of abortion, have been proposed by, among others, the leader of the Houston Republican Party, Stephen Hotze. In 1994, speaking to the annual banquet of the Atlanta-based, Christian Reconstructionist think tank American Vision, Hotze declared that "what we need in America today is judges; we need mayors; we need governors who are willing to stand up to our Supreme Court, to our president and say 'not in our city.' I am convinced," he added, "that if men of courage in positions of leadership &hellip would stand, they would bring about a significant constitutional crisis."
The 1993 assassination of Dr. Gunn affected Bray, who described it approvingly as a "rational way of following the Operation Rescue dictum: 'If you believe abortion is murder, then act like it.'" While most people involved in "rescue" activities stop far short of advocating murder, Bray by 1994 was arguing for the "principle of revolution" and establishing a "Christian government" in his seminal work, A Time to Kill.
Bray's friend and fellow Reconstructionist, the former Orthodox Presbyterian minister Paul Hill, became known in this period for arguing that the killing of abortion providers was justifiable. In 1994, Hill moved from talk to action, murdering a doctor and his escort, and wounding the escort's wife, in Pensacola, Fla. Hill, now awaiting execution, also called for armed theocratic revolution under the "lesser magistrate" doctrine.
Christian Identity and 'Phineas Priests'
The Christian Identity movement also has emerged in recent years as a source of anti-abortion violence. Identity is best known for tenets holding that Jews are the literal descendants of Satan and blacks are soulless subhumans. But it also attacks abortion, which in most cases is seen as a capital crime. This theology is epitomized by the Rev. Richard Butler, head of the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations and an Identity pastor . (See "Elder Statesman," also in this issue.) But its virulent anti-abortionism may have been best expressed in the Birmingham bombing.
While Rudolph's responsibility for the Jan. 29, 1998, attack has yet to be established by a jury, a Southern Poverty Law Center investigation shows that Rudolph is an Identity adherent. As a youngster, he spent time with his family at the Identity church of Dan Gayman, in Schell City, Mo. Later, in North Carolina, he had ties to the late Nord Davis Jr., an Identity leader whose compound lay close by the Rudolphs' home.
In 1995, three Identity adherents -- Verne Jay Merrell, Charles Barbee and Robert Berry -- robbed a local bank and bombed the Spokane offices of Planned Parenthood and The Spokesman-Review newspaper. One of them, Merrell, has close ties to America's Promise Ministries, an Identity church in Sandpoint, Idaho, headed by the Rev. Dave Barley. Merrell preached at Barley's Bible camps, and Barley sold Merrell's tapes.
The Spokane gang, now all serving long prison sentences, were self-described "Phineas Priests." The biblical story of Phineas, a priest who killed an Israelite man and a Midianite woman with one spear, has been used to justify the murder of interracial couples. It was also used by Paul Hill to justify his actions, although Hill told journalist Judy Thomas that he rejects the racism of the Phineas Priesthood.
Identity adherents increasingly are influenced by Reconstructionism, which offers a coherent and in many ways philosophically compatible theology. As these two theologies have cross-pollinated, partly in response to events such as Waco, abortion facilities have become prime targets for revolutionary white supremacists and antigovernment Patriots.
The influence of the Patriot movement is in some ways personified by Matt Trewhella, whose Operation Rescue faction was renamed Missionaries to the Preborn in 1990. By 1994, Trewhella had emerged as a leader in the young U.S. Taxpayers Party, along with Randall Terry and others from Operation Rescue. Addressing USTP's Wisconsin state convention, which included both Posse Comitatus and anti-abortion activists, Trewhella proposed disconnecting from the state on everything from Social Security to marriage licenses -- a longtime Posse theme. A militia manual circulated at the convention called abortion a key reason "to spring immediately and effectively to arms."
Another key broker between the Patriot and anti-abortion movements is Larry Pratt. Pratt spoke at a pivotal 1992 meeting in Estes Park, Colo., which assembled Identity leaders with Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi, Christian Right and anti-abortion activists. The so-called "Gathering of Christian Men" marked the birth of the militia movement and popularized the "leaderless resistance" strategy of forming small cells.
An apocalyptic version of Catholicism has been added to the mix as well. A blending of Catholic and Protestant versions of justification for anti-abortion violence is personified by Fr. David Trosch, of Mobile, Ala. Trosch, founder of Life Enterprises Unlimited, penned a cartoon depicting the murder of a surgeon under the caption "Justifiable Homicide?" Although he was removed from pastoral responsibilities after refusing his bishop's order to stop advocating justifiable homicide ideas, he was not defrocked.
In 1994, Trosch authored a rambling missive to Congress and the media that announced that a time of "massive killing of abortionists and their staffs" was approaching. Members of abortion rights and women's groups could be "sought out and terminated as vermin are terminated." Trosch told a reporter that targets might include the president, the attorney general and justices of the Supreme Court. He also suggested that manufacturers of intra-uterine devices (IUDs) and the RU-468 abortion pill could be hit.
This summer, Trosch's grotesque Web site featured attacks on Emily Lyons, the "murderous" nurse maimed in Birmingham. It depicts a scale with the bodies of fetuses on one side and slain abortion workers on the other. Being added to the murdered workers' side is "about 200 pounds" -- a reference to slain officer Robert Sanderson.
Another strain of Catholic apocalypticism derives from what the Catholic Church calls the miracle at Fatima. Some believers "consider abortion to be an affront to God's laws and perhaps a sign the apocalypse is near," says Chip Berlet, an expert on the radical right with Political Research Associates. There is evidence that John Salvi, a Catholic with militia ties who murdered two clinic personnel and wounded five others in the Boston area, may have been influenced by Fatimist literature of this sort.
Fr. Norm Weslin, leader of the itinerant, anti-abortion Lambs of Christ group, was asked what the biggest problem facing the "lambs" is. "Satan" was his reply. The notion that the constitutionally protected practice of abortion is considered a literal struggle with "Satan" suggests that Weslin foresees a religious war. Indeed, many anti-abortion activists see just such a jihad as already underway, with themselves playing a central role.
Like the Reconstructionists, the anti-abortion Fatimists see stopping abortion as a requirement if they are to stay the hand of God from punishing the entire society.
From ideology to assassination
The proponents and practitioners of anti-abortion violence see themselves as engaged in a literal, and not merely rhetorical, war with the larger culture. Many of them engage in the activities of war, from the creation of military manuals to the stockpiling of supplies. They train in operations, reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering. The most notorious form of intelligence-gathering has been of the details of the lives and personal schedules of abortion providers. In one such project, activists identified the successor to the murdered Dr. David Gunn, creating "unwanted" posters with his photo, home address and details about his vehicle. It was this information that provided Paul Hill with the opportunity to assassinate the doctor and his escort. The details of how Dr. John Britton was identified were written up as a case study in Life Advocate magazine.
This kind of targeting of abortion providers has been routine for years, but it is growing, as evidenced by the Web site run by Georgia-based Neal Horsley. Recently, similar calls for information on Canadian doctors have generated enormous controversy in that country, where three abortion doctors have been the victims of assassination attempts over the past few years. In each case, the doctor was attacked at home by a sniper using a high-powered rifle equipped with a telescopic lens -- yet another indication of the move of some extremists from low-level violence toward revolutionary assassination.
The ideology and operations of the militant anti-abortion movement have evolved considerably over the last quarter century. More and more, the theme of justifiable violence has entered the mainstream of related antigovernment movements. Activists in all of these movements, more openly and in a more unified fashion than ever before, seem bent on a theocratic revolution requiring murder, bombing and other violence.
Press back button to exit or
All rights reserved.
Southern Poverty Law Center.