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Context of 'December 1984: FBI Director: Clinic Attacks Do Not Conform to Definition of Terrorism'

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An anti-abortion activist enters the Concern Women’s Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio. The activist throws flammable liquid in the face of the receptionist and sets fire to the interior of the building. According to author Harvey Kushner, this occurs in February 1977. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38) In its extensive listings of clinic attacks, the National Abortion Federation will not list a women’s clinic bombing for February 1977, but it will list an attack very similar to the Concern Clinic attack for February 1978. The organization will describe the bombing as follows: “Man entered clinic, blinded a technician by throwing chemicals, and set center on fire, destroying it. Clinic was full of patients at the time; they escaped without injury.” The monetary damage to the clinic is around $100,000. (National Abortion Federation 2010)

Ohio experiences a spate of arson and bomb attacks of women’s clinics, presumably by anti-abortion activists. While the best-documented attack takes place at a Cleveland clinic (see February 1977 or 1978), at least three others take place during the month of February, including one attack that does around $200,000 in damage to a clinic. The attacks are preceded by a clinic firebombing in November 1977, and followed up by a clinic bombing in June 1978. All of the attacks will go unredressed, with the statute of limitations expiring on each before an assailant can be identified and charged. (National Abortion Federation 2010)

An anti-abortion activist named Peter Burkin enters a women’s health clinic in Hempstead, New York, bearing a two-foot flaming torch. Burkin threatens to “cleanse the soul” of the clinic’s abortion provider, Dr. Bill Baird. Baird is well known as a litigant in a 1972 Supreme Court case that legalized the sale of contraceptives to unmarried couples. Burkin, who is himself injured in the fire, will be acquitted of attempted murder and arson charges, and found not guilty by reason of insanity on charges of arson and reckless endangerment. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38; National Abortion Federation 2010)

The Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, is gutted by fire, presumably as a result of arson by anti-abortion activists. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38)

Anti-abortion activist Don Benny Anderson tries to burn down two women’s clinics in Florida. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38)

Anti-abortion activists Don Benny Anderson (see May 1982), Matthew Moore, and Wayne Moore kidnap Dr. Hector Zevallos of the Hope Clinic for Women (see January 1982) and his wife. The activists hold the Zevalloses for eight days, during which time they force Zevallos to make an anti-abortion speech that is to be videotaped and sent to President Reagan in support of legislation designed to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion (see January 22, 1973). Threatened with the murder of himself and his wife, Zevallos agrees. According to government documents, this is the first action of the “Army of God,” a violent anti-abortion group (see 1982, Early 1980s, and July 1988). (Kushner 2003, pp. 38; Extremist Groups: Information for Students 1/1/2006) Anderson and Matthew Moore will plead guilty to multiple felonies in regards to the incident; Anderson will tell the court that he has been told by God to “wage war on abortion.” The three will also be convicted of kidnapping Zevallos and his wife. Anderson will receive 30 years for the kidnapping, and 30 additional years for firebombing two Florida abortion clinics. (Extremist Groups: Information for Students 1/1/2006; National Abortion Federation 2010)

Two abortion clinics, one in Norfolk, Virginia, and one in Washington, DC, are firebombed. A man representing himself as a member of the “Army of God” (see 1982 and August 1982) contacts the media to claim responsibility for the Washington bombing; the acronym “AoG” is written on a wall of the Norfolk clinic. (Extremist Groups: Information for Students 1/1/2006)

Despite a well-documented pattern of escalating violence (see February 1977 or 1978, February 1978, 1979, January 1982, May 1982, August 1982, 1984, and 1984), FBI Director William Webster declares that the spate of clinic bombings and attacks by anti-abortionists does not conform to the federal definition of terrorism, and therefore is not a priority for federal investigation. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38-39)

After the shooting of Dr. George Tiller (see August 19, 1993), and in conjuction with numerous arson and acid attacks on women’s health clinics around the nation, the FBI undertakes an investigation of anti-abortion organizations, focusing on death threats issued by anti-abortion organizations against Tiller and other abortion providers. (Kushner 2003, pp. 39) In 1984, the Bureau rejected the idea that such attacks constituted terrorism (see December 1984). The investigation, called the Clinic Violence Task Force, results in the brief deployment of some two dozen US Marshals to protect clinics, but the marshals will be called off after a few months on the grounds that the threat has abated (see December 30, 1994 and After). (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995)


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