Anti-Abortion Leader Neal Horsley Spews Propaganda
On the evening of Oct. 23, 1998, a sniper shot and killed Dr. Barnett Slepian as he stood with his wife and son in the kitchen of his home in East Amherst, N.Y. The death of Dr. Slepian would soon make a celebrity of Neal Horsley.
Horsley claims now that the morning after Slepian's murder, he found a list on the Internet of abortion providers who had been wounded or murdered.
After adding the names to his Nuremberg Files site, he grayed out the names of those who had been wounded. And then he put a line through the names of the dead.
"I got to Barnett Slepian's name," he told Atlanta. "And all of a sudden I ... realized: When I draw a line through his name, under these circumstances, they are going to freak fucking out. ... And I said, let's do it. Let 'er rip!"
The next day, Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt held a press conference to denounce the Nuremberg Files, which she characterized as a "list of abortion doctors marked for death." Two days later, Horsley claims, the site received 400,000 hits — almost twice as many as the monthly total up to that point.
At around the same time — sometime in 1998 — a story entitled "Rescue Platoon" was serialized on a website sponsored by David Leach, whose Iowa-based newsletter has supported the extremist anti-abortion network.
"Rescue Platoon" was a novelistic account of a future, final war against abortion that begins with the execution — or "martyrdom" — of assassin Paul Hill.
By the end, Utah and the former Confederate states have outlawed abortion, only to have the federal government threaten to send in troops to reopen the clinics. This causes Texas to secede, joined by "disgruntled Patriots" and others on the side of "righteousness."
The author of "Rescue Platoon" is not identified. But it is difficult to escape the obvious similarities between this fictionalized account of a winning war against abortion and Horsley's much-promoted strategy of Southern secession.
Attacking 'Homicidal Mothers'
By the time the Planned Parenthood lawsuit went to a federal jury in 1999, Horsley's Nuremberg Files site had become a central focus of the case.
Although Horsley was never added as a defendant — the suit was originally aimed at those who had gathered information for the "unwanted" posters — he was named an unindicted co-conspirator and deposed.
The plaintiffs argued that Horsley's site and the posters amounted to a "true threat," even though neither specifically called for violence. In the end, the jury agreed (see Hit List or Free Speech?), awarding $107 million in damages.
Part of the judge's final order required Horsley to take down the Nuremberg Files.
A day after the February verdict, an Internet service provider shut Horsley's site down. Over the next years, he would be forced to switch providers some 40 times as one after another decided they didn't want to host his website.
Also in 1999, Horsley began to plan for a project that would eventually become his www.abortioncams.com website.
Angrily attacking other opponents of abortion for treating mothers sympathetically rather than as murderers, Horsley soon would begin to solicit and put up photos of patients outside abortion facilities.
"There are words for what a mother does when she kills her unborn child for any reason other than clear and present self-defense ... words like infanticide and homicide, and evil, and sin, and punishable by law and God," Horsley writes on the site. "[These] homicidal mothers must be held up for the world to see."
By 2001, the site was up, complete with scores of photos.
A Fugitive Comes Calling
On March 28, 2001, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the Planned Parenthood verdict, ruling that both the "unwanted" posters and the material on Horsley's site were protected speech — and within days, Horsley had put the Nuremberg Files back up.
(The plaintiffs petitioned for an en banc hearing, and in December were allowed to reargue their case to the full 9th Circuit appeals court. A decision is pending.)
"Defendants can only be held liable if they authorized, ratified or directly threatened violence," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the March decision. "But if their statements merely encouraged unrelated terrorists, then their words are protected by the First Amendment."
Horsley was overjoyed — and even more famous. It wasn't long before the neo-Confederate Southern Party, which includes a number of modern secessionists, invited Horsley to deliver the keynote speech at its August national convention in Vicksburg, Miss.
Although the text of Horsley's speech is not available, his ideas on secession and the role of religion doubtless played to sympathetic ears.
If Horsley had fears about securing his place on the extremist fringe of the anti-abortion movement, they most likely disappeared on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving.
That morning, Horsley says, Clayton Waagner — a man on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List — showed up at Horsley's Georgia home carrying a pistol and full of talk.
Waagner had been a fugitive since February 2001, when he escaped an Illinois jail while awaiting sentencing on federal firearms and auto theft convictions.
While on the lam, Waagner allegedly robbed banks in two states and carried out a carjacking in another. Waagner also sent out repeated e-messages claiming he was stalking 42 abortion providers and planned to kill some of them.
Horsley says that Waagner showed him evidence proving that Waagner was behind the mailing of fake anthrax threats to almost 300 abortion clinics last fall. Waagner also asked Horsley to put up an "escape clause" on his site to allow the 42 workers he was supposedly stalking to avoid death by quitting their jobs.
Not long after, the editor of the Southern Party's newsletter printed Horsley's tale, saying "if I didn't trust the source for this one, it wouldn't be in here." He went on to describe Horsley as "a Georgian and a fine Southern gentleman."
On Dec. 5, Clayton Waagner, who once testified that God told him to kill abortion doctors, was arrested at a Kinko's store near Cincinnati, supposedly as he was logged on to one of Horsley's sites. Attorney General John Ashcroft has called him a "domestic terrorist" and the primary suspect in the fake anthrax threats.
All the World's a Stage
Today, Neal Horsley is a key player in the world of anti-abortion extremism. Although his vulgarity — not to mention his past as a dope-dealing womanizer — has hurt him in many extremist quarters, his remarkable ability to generate publicity has shunted many other abortion hard-liners into the shade.
His ribald humor and back-slapping persona, so unusual on the often sanctimonious anti-abortion scene, have made him attractive to a fresh crop of young hard-liners.
And like so many people in other sectors of the American radical right, Horsley has managed to back violent individuals even as he nominally decries violence as a means to his ends.
"He certainly has brought some attention to the anti-abortion movement that it would not have received otherwise," says Dallas Blanchard, a long-time expert on anti-abortion extremism and professor emeritus at the University of West Florida in Pensacola.
"That publicity has been a help to the movement, but it has also been damaging because of the extreme cast of characters. Horsley makes no pretense of upright morality. He seems to be kind of a loose cannon. And most of these folks would not like to be publicly associated with Horsley's persona."
Above all, one thing is certain. Neal Horsley loves the attention.
"When it came," Horsley said of what he sees as God's message to him that he was to save the babies, "it opened the door and put me right up there on stage. A big stage with lots of lights. Rather than shrinking back, I saw it as my opportunity. ... To be perfectly honest, I'm having a great time. I love it!"