Anti-Abortion Movement Marches On After Two Decades of Arson, Bombs and Murder

Two decades of arson, bombs and murder

It is, perhaps, the history of the future. In much the way that the neo-Nazi novel The Turner Diaries served as a blueprint for white supremacist revolution, a fictional account of the future of insurrectionary anti-abortion violence has already been written.

And it is a chilling tale.

Rescue Platoon, a story of a future, final war against abortion, was serialized this year on a Web site sponsored by David Leach, whose Iowa-based newsletter, Prayer & Action Weekly News, has supported the pro-violence anti-abortion network. Replete with bombs and murder, the mini-novel tells of a "righteous wrath" to come.

In the end, the "Army of God," amid a bloodbath of epic proportions, gains the final victory.

Over the years, the race war fantasy detailed in The Turner Diaries has been used by a series of terrorists from The Order to Timothy McVeigh. Now, observers fear, these new, revolution-minded stories could prove to be a road map for anti-abortion terror.

In recent years, experts say, the ranks of nonviolent clinic blockaders have shrunk, largely as acts of terrorism have alienated many in the larger anti-abortion movement. But at the same time, those who have always advocated some violence have become increasingly revolutionary, seeing themselves as fighting a holy war to recreate society in a religious mold. Today, those in the most militant wing of the anti-abortion movement are more and more willing to kill.

"As groups become smaller," says Dallas Blanchard, a sociologist who has studied anti-abortion extremism, "they encourage the violent to get more violent."

Two Decades of Terror
Although nonviolent forms of protest are the preferred methods for most who oppose abortion, violence and threats of violence have been part of the anti-abortion movement since the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion.

Over the last 20 years, anti-abortion terrorists have been responsible for six murders and 15 attempted murders (see Lake of Fire), according to the National Abortion Federation. They have also been behind some 200 bombings and arsons, 72 attempted arsons, 750 death and bomb threats and hundreds of acts of vandalism, intimidation, stalking and burglary.

The first arson attack against a clinic took place in 1977, four years after Roe v. Wade. It was aimed at a Long Island, N.Y., clinic owned by abortion rights advocate Bill Baird. In the next six years, the pace picked up, with 29 bombings and arsons by 1983.

Soon, the attacks were against people. In 1982, a man claiming to represent the "Army of God" (AOG), kidnapped, but ultimately released, an abortion doctor and his wife. Don Benny Anderson, convicted of the kidnapping and three clinic bombings in Florida and Virginia, remains in prison, but still serves as a role model for many militants.

Dubbed "the Year of Fear and Pain" by militant activists of Joseph Scheidler's Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN), 1984 was marked by 25 clinic arsons and bombings, resulting in millions of dollars in damage. Among these were the so-called "Christmas bombings" of two clinics in Pensacola, Fla. At least seven attacks were planned and carried out by a group headed by Rev. Michael Bray, of Bowie, Md., who epitomizes the activist who engages in nonviolent protests by day but wages covert terrorism by night.

While most people involved in clinic protests are clearly not involved in or necessarily supportive of violence, these protests remain the common ground of expression for abortion opponents of both nonviolent and violent persuasions. From Michael Bray to Paul Hill in Florida to John Salvi in Boston, practitioners of violence have used the occasion of peaceful protest to blend in and to gather intelligence for their terrorist attacks.

The 'Army of God' Emerges
At the site of a Norfolk, Va., bombing, Bray left a sign: "AOG." The same year, a caller claiming responsibility for several bombings said he was from the Army of God. Also in 1984, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the Roe v. Wade decision, received a threatening letter from a group using that name.

Who, or what, is the Army of God?

That question has plagued investigators for years. Whether it is a concept — a handy moniker for whoever takes up the cause — or a permanent underground group is not yet clear. Most recently, it came up when letters claiming credit for the deadly Jan. 29 bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., were signed "Army of God". Similar letters took credit for 1997 bombings of a clinic and a lesbian bar in the Atlanta area. The AOG also claimed the attempted assassinations of abortion physicians in Canada.

Aside from the occasional letter taking credit for violent actions, the primary document reaching the public has been the so-called Army of God manual, an underground handbook on how to commit clinic violence. It describes itself as "a manual for those who have come to understand that the battle against abortion is a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the devil and all of the evil he can muster among flesh and blood to fight at his side."

It calls the United States "a nation ruled by a godless civil authority that is dominated by humanism, moral nihilism and new age perversion of the high standards upon which a Godly society must be founded, if it is to endure."

And it goes further. After offering detailed instructions on how to build ammonium nitrate bombs and "homemade C-4 plastic explosive," it suggests maiming abortion doctors "by removing their hands, or at least their thumbs below the second digit."

The Army of God of the 1980s was fairly careful not to harm people. But as the AOG's widely circulated manual suggests, those who now claim to be part of the Army of God, whoever they may be, are willing to kill and maim.