Anti-Abortion Bombings Related
'Patriots' and racists converge
By Frederick Clarkson
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. ... 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 ... 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). 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.