Profile: James Kopp
James Kopp was a participant or observer in the following events:
The “Army of God” (AOG), an underground anti-abortion extremist group, forms, according to government documents. The Army of God advocates violence towards abortion providers and clinics, and will even recommend murder and assassination of abortion providers (see Early 1980s); later it will also advocate violence against homosexuals in order to end what it calls the “homosexual agenda.” Current and future leaders and prominent members will include Don Benny Anderson (see August 1982), Michael Bray (see September 1994), James Kopp (see October 23, 1998), Neal Horsley (see January 1997), and Eric Robert Rudolph (see January 29, 1998). It is unclear how large the group is. The group advocates “whatever means are necessary” to stop abortions, which it calls “baby-killing.” According to government documents, the AOG manual “explicitly states that this is a ‘real’ army, with the stated mission of choosing violent means both to permanently end the ability of medical personnel to perform abortions and to draw media attention to their opposition to women’s right to choose to have abortions.” The AOG advocates the use of glue, acid, firebombs, and explosives against clinics and clinic personnel, and later advocates shooting abortion providers and clinic staff. A government document says, “It is explicitly stated in the manual that violence is the preferred means to the desired end, and there are references to ‘execution’ of abortion clinic staff.” The manual states that the local members of the Army of God are not told of the identities of other members, in order to make certain that “the feds will never stop us.” AOG documents will also threaten the US government and the United Nations, calling the UN an “ungodly Communist regime” supported by its “legislative-bureaucratic lackeys in Washington.” A letter apparently written by AOG leader Donald Spitz will claim of the US government and the UN: “It is you who are responsible and preside over the murder of children and issue the policy of ungodly perversion that’s destroying our people.… Death to the New World Order.” The AOG will openly declare itself a terrorist organization in responses to media articles. It will maintain that a state of undeclared war has existed in the US since the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion (see January 22, 1973), and it carries out terrorist attacks against abortion clinics and providers in order to “defend God’s children” against state-sponsored “slaughter.” The AOG will repeatedly state that it intends to continue its violent, deadly attacks against abortion clinics and providers until all laws legalizing abortion are repealed. After 2001, the AOG will begin rhetorically attacking homosexuals as well as abortion providers (see 2002). It will also proclaim its solidarity with Muslim extremist groups over such incidents as the September 11 attacks. AOG members will publicly profess their enthusiasm for mounting chemical and biological attacks. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006]
Members of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986) enter a women’s health clinic, the Pensacola Ladies Center, in Pensacola, Florida. They attack the clinic administrator, throwing her down the stairs; attack and injure an official of the National Organization for Women (NOW); blockade the clinic; and wreck medical equipment. During the attack, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler stands outside, praising the attackers and publicly claiming credit for the incident. The clinic will close for several days for repairs. [National Organization for Women, 9/2002] The Ladies Center was firebombed twice in 1984 by anti-abortion activists (see 1984). [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38] One of the protesters who takes part in the blockade and assault is James Kopp, who in 1998 will murder an abortion provider (see October 23, 1998). [Womens eNews, 3/30/2001]
A number of anti-abortion protesters, including many members of Operation Rescue (see 1986), are arrested outside the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. They spend several weeks together in jail, and it is believed that while there, many of them join the “Army of God,” an anti-abortion organization devoted to using violence to prevent abortions (see 1982 and August 1982). One of the jailed protesters is James Kopp, who in 1998 will murder an abortion doctor (see October 23, 1998). Others include Lambs of Christ leader Norman Weslin; Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon, who will later shoot another abortion doctor (see August 19, 1993); and John Arena, who will later be charged with using butyric acid to attack abortion clinics and providers. According to government documents, Kopp is already a leader of the Army of God, and may recruit new members during his stay in jail. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006; National Abortion Federation, 2010]
Dr. Garson Romalis, a physician and abortion provider, is shot in the leg in his Vancouver home while eating breakfast. The bullet that injures Romalis comes through his back window. [Washington Post, 1998; Associated Press, 5/31/2009] Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp will later be charged with Romalis’s shooting (see March 29, 2001). The assaults on Romalis and other Canadian abortion providers (see November 10, 1995 and November 12, 1996) become known as the “Remembrance Day” shootings; Canada’s Remembrance Day honors its war veterans, and the holiday has been informally adopted by the anti-abortion movement as a day to highlight its opposition to abortion. [Womens eNews, 3/30/2001]
Dr. Hugh Short, an Ancaster, Ontario, physician and abortion provider, is shot while watching television in his home. The bullet is fired through a second-floor window and shatters his elbow. [Washington Post, 1998] Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp will later be named as a suspect in Short’s shooting (see March 29, 2001).
Dr. Jack Fainman, a Vancouver physician and abortion provider, is shot in the right shoulder while at his home. The bullet comes through his back window. [Washington Post, 1998] Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp will later be named as a suspect in Fainman’s shooting (see March 29, 2001).
James Kopp. [Source: Women's eNews (.org)]Dr. Barnett Slepian, an obstetrician in Buffalo, New York, who performs abortions, is shot to death in his kitchen, by a bullet that enters through the window of his Amherst, New York, home. His wife and one of his four children witness his murder. Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp shoots Slepian with a high-powered rifle. Kopp uses the pseudonym “Clive Swenson,” and is well known under that name in a Jersey City, New Jersey, Catholic congregation. Militant anti-abortionists call him “Atomic Dog.” It will take the FBI over two years to find Kopp, who will be arrested in France (see March 29, 2001). Kopp, who apparently was drawn to anti-abortion protests in the 1970s after his girlfriend had an abortion, has been active in anti-abortion protests for decades and joined Randall Terry’s Operation Rescue in 1986. It is also believed he joined the violent anti-abortion organization “Army of God” in 1988 (see 1982), as well as the “Lambs of God,” a Catholic anti-abortion group whose leader has characterized the anti-abortion movement as a “war between God and Satan.” Kopp is well known for designing intricate locks that anti-abortion protesters use to lock the doors to women’s health care clinics. Slepian has been listed as a “wanted” abortion provider on the anti-abortion Web site “Nuremberg Files,” which The Guardian will describe as “a virtual hit list of doctors who carry out abortions” (see January 1997). Within hours of his murder, Slepian’s name is reposted on the site, this time with a line drawn through it. [Washington Post, 1998; Womens eNews, 3/30/2001; Guardian, 4/1/2001; National Abortion Federation, 2010] By early November, Kopp will be named as a suspect in the murder, though he will not be formally charged until May 1999. He will be placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list in June 1999. [National Abortion Federation, 2010] In 2002, Kopp will confess to the murder (see November 21, 2002). He will be found guilty a year later (see March 17-18, 2003).
The Christian Defense Coalition (CDC) urges the Bush administration to show “restraint” in its handling of the arrest of accused murderer James Kopp, whose anti-abortion beliefs triggered his shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian (see March 29, 2001). The CDC says that the “vast majority of the pro-life community” condemns violence against abortion doctors such as Slepian, and urges Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice “not to use this episode to harass and intimidate the pro-life movement as the Clinton administration did” (see May 1994 and January 1996), and makes the same request of pro-choice organizations. The CDC also urges the general public to remember that Kopp is “innocent until proven guilty.” [Christian Defense Coalition, 3/29/2001]
French authorities arrest anti-abortion advocate James Kopp, who is wanted for the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998). The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have been hunting for Kopp since the murder, and tracked him through a Brooklyn couple, Dennis Malvasi and his wife Loretta Marra, who are arrested for conspiring to aid and abet Slepian’s murder. (Malvasi has been convicted of bombing an abortion clinic; Marra and Kopp have been arrested together at a number of anti-abortion protests.) Shortly after Slepian’s murder, the FBI found Kopp’s sniper rifle buried behind Slepian’s home; investigators also found Kopp’s automobile in a suburb of Slepian’s home town of Amherst. Currently Kopp is being held in Rennes, where he is refusing to answer questions; French authorities have not yet decided whether to extradite him, as French law precludes extradition of anyone who may face the death penalty. In March, the FBI learned that Kopp was living in Ireland under a series of false identities and surviving by doing menial labor. In mid-March, Kopp fled Ireland on a ferry that took him to Brittany, a rural French province. It is there that he is arrested, in the medieval Breton town of Dinan. Kopp is also wanted for three non-fatal shooting ambushes of doctors in Canada and in Rochester, New York. [Guardian, 4/1/2001; National Abortion Federation, 2010]
Help from Irish Anti-Abortion Groups - Irish pro-life groups deny helping Kopp, but an FBI spokesman says, “He did not leave the US without assistance, and he did not remain a fugitive without assistance.” Later evidence will show that Kopp was assisted by American and Irish anti-abortion advocates in Ireland, many of whom are affiliated with the right-wing breakaway Catholic sect headed by excommunicated Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. In 2001, The Nation will observe, “In the last half-decade US antiabortion campaigners have moved on Ireland in a big way, introducing a militancy previously unknown there.” [Nation, 4/23/2001; National Abortion Federation, 2010]
Pro-Choice Spokesman: Kopp Part of a Larger Conspiracy - National Abortion Federation head Vicki Saporta says in a statement: “The arrest of James Kopp could potentially be the greatest advance in the effort to end violence against abortion providers in this country and in Canada. Law enforcement officials are now uncovering what we have been asserting for years: the existence of an organized network of anti-choice extremists who assist terrorists in carrying out acts of violence against abortion providers.… The Army of God (see 1982) has in large part been responsible for the reign of terror against abortion providers in the last decade. This is the best opportunity we’ve had to finally identify, expose, and prosecute those individuals who are part of this extreme network.… We have been collecting statistics on violence against abortion providers for more than 20 years, and we know that there are individuals who provide money, safe houses, and other support to those who have committed acts of terrorism against abortion providers. These terrorists do not work alone, and we now have an important opportunity to reduce the violence and harassment that abortion providers in this country face on a daily basis.… Now is the time to uncover the ring of extremists who are part of the Army of God and reduce the violence against abortion providers once and for all.” [National Abortion Federation, 3/30/2001]
Confession and Conviction - Kopp will be extradited over a year later (see June 5, 2002 and After). He will confess to the murder shortly afterward (see November 21, 2002) and will be pronounced guilty in 2003 (see March 17-18, 2003).
Accused murderer James Kopp, an anti-abortion advocate who allegedly shot Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998), is extradited by French authorities (see March 29, 2001) to the US after the American government assures them that Kopp will not face the death penalty. French law precludes suspects being extradited to foreign nations if the possibility exists that they will be executed. Kopp retains lawyer Paul Cambria to defend him, but also retains lawyer Bruce Barket because Barket, like Kopp, has strong anti-abortion views and wants to make the defense about abortion (Cambria wants to defend Kopp strictly on the evidence). Barket will not be allowed to represent Kopp in federal court. [National Abortion Federation, 2010] Months later, Kopp will confess to the murder (see November 21, 2002). He will be found guilty several months later (see March 17-18, 2003).
Anti-abortion advocate James Kopp, accused of murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998), confesses to the crime during an interview with the Buffalo News. “I did it, and I’m admitting it,” he says. “But I never, ever intended for Dr. Slepian to die.… I regret that he died. I aimed at his shoulder.” Kopp, who for months has vehemently denied any involvement in Slepian’s death, is accompanied by his lawyer, Bruce Barket. Both Kopp and Barket intend to make their legal defense about abortion, and will attempt to claim moral justification for the murder due to Kopp’s anti-abortion views. Of other abortion providers, Kopp says: “They’re still in danger, absolutely. I’m not the first, and I probably won’t be the last.… To pick up a gun and aim it at another human being, and to fire, it’s not a human thing to do. It’s not nice. It’s not pleasant. It’s gory, it’s bloody. It overcomes every human instinct. The only thing that would be worse, to me, would be to do nothing, and to allow abortions to continue.” Kopp claims he wants to set the record straight for the sake of his supporters who were publicly proclaiming his innocence and saying the FBI had framed him. Kopp adds that he selected Slepian’s name from the phone book, and that he also cased the homes of several other physicians before deciding that Slepian’s was the most vulnerable due to a window in the back that faced the woods. After his confession, prosecutors charge Kopp with an additional charge of reckless murder with depraved indifference to human life. [Associated Press, 11/21/2002; Buffalo News, 11/22/2002; National Abortion Federation, 2010]
Ends Claims that Kopp Innocent, Framed by Police - In January 2003, the magazine Catholic Insight will observe: “With this admission, Kopp knocked the feet out from under those pro-life supporters who had suggested that he couldn’t have committed the crime because he was a pacifist, had poor eyesight, was a poor marksman, or was being framed by the police. Pro-life advocates who earlier had condemned the shootings as unacceptable acts of violence could take solace in the fact that Kopp made it clear he acted alone in the Slepian shooting and that no one in the Buffalo pro-life community had suggested Slepian as a target.” [Catholic Insight, 1/1/2003]
Anti-Abortion Advocates Condemn Kopp's Shooting but Welcome Trial as Platform for Debating Abortion - The Reverend Paul Schenck, an anti-abortion advocate who has led numerous protests and has been arrested for blockading abortion clinics, says of Kopp: “James Kopp has admitted to being a cold-blooded killer, a vigilante who acted as judge, jury, and executioner. In what he did, he undermined the whole moral philosophy of the pro-life movement, which views every human life as intrinsically valuable and created in God’s image. He should fade into ignimony after being utterly rejected by all people of conscience. May God have mercy on his soul.” [US Newswire, 11/21/2002] Bishop Henry Mansell, a local anti-abortion leader, says while he disapproves of Kopp’s action and the use of violence against abortion providers, he welcomes the use of Kopp’s trial to create a platform for an abortion debate. “We don’t believe the end justifies the means,” Mansell says. “But given a trial, I hope there would be a discussion and an exploration of the issues in depth.” Pro-choice lawyer Glenn Murray disagrees, saying, “I would hate to think that those who want a referendum on abortion would exploit an act of terrorism.” [Buffalo News, 11/22/2002] “Kopp is an extremist, a terrorist, a self-confessed murderer plain and simple, so his jailhouse confession is nothing more than a cynical attempt to manipulate us all through the media,” says Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, a pro-choice organization. The Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, director of the anti-abortion organization Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue), says Kopp “betrayed the pro-life movement, unborn children, and the Lord he proclaims to serve. You never overcome the problem of murder by murdering people.” [Associated Press, 11/21/2002]
Kopp Will Be Found Guilty - Kopp will be found guilty of Slepian’s murder (see March 17-18, 2003).
The anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue releases a statement from its director, the Reverend Philip “Flip” Benham, criticizing a rally held in Buffalo, New York, to memorialize James Kopp, the confessed murderer of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998 and November 21, 2002). Benham accuses pro-choice advocates of participating in the “murder” of “over 45 million children killed by ‘legalized’ abortion,” and says: “Those who advocate murdering abortionists are going to be given a national platform from which to spew their vitriolic poison. How sad!” Benham denies that Operation Rescue has ever advocated or supported violence against abortion providers (see August 1988, January 7, 1998, and April 20, 1998), adding that his organization has “totally debunked” the idea that “murdering abortionists is somehow justifiable biblically,” and blames “the media” for propagating “this poisonous lie” that anti-abortion advocates espouse violence in order to “divert our attention from the true holocaust savaging our nation, and paint every Christian who lives out his faith at an abortion mill as a wild-eyed lunatic, bent on doing violence.” [Operation Save America, 1/13/2003]
A handcuffed James Kopp is escorted into an Erie County courtroom to face trial for murdering Dr. Barnett Slepian. [Source: Getty Images]James Kopp, the anti-abortion advocate who has confessed to murdering abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian (see October 23, 1998 and November 21, 2002), is tried for the murder. Kopp has agreed to a bench trial in lieu of a jury; both the defense and prosecution have already agreed to a number of basic facts stipulated about the case. Defense attorney Bruce Barket argues that Kopp should be acquitted because of his moral belief that force is necessary to stop abortions, and because he did not intend to kill Slepian, but only wound him. Prosecutor Joseph Marusak counters by arguing that every step Kopp took in planning for the attack, including his choice of weapon and the use of aliases in buying the rifle, pointed to an intention to kill. After less than two days of trial, Judge Michael D’Amico finds Kopp guilty of second-degree murder. Kopp will be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. [Associated Press, 3/18/2003; National Abortion Federation, 2010] Kopp is allowed to read a long statement explicating his anti-abortion views into the court record. [Buffalo News, 1/7/2007] Pro-choice organization Planned Parenthood says of Kopp’s conviction: “The conviction of confessed terrorist and murderer James Kopp is a triumph for justice. Our thoughts are with Dr. Slepian’s family and community. James Kopp’s horrendous crime is a painful reminder of the threat posed by extremists who will go to any lengths to impose their ideology on others. Planned Parenthood and America’s pro-choice majority will not tolerate anti-choice terrorists and their limitless hostility toward reproductive health care providers and the women they bravely serve. We hope the outcome of the Kopp trial will dissuade other anti-choice extremists from further harassment and violence. Planned Parenthood is committed to protecting our patients, staff, and volunteers and to ensuring that those who threaten them are brought to justice.” [Planned Parenthood, 3/18/2003] The National Abortion Federation’s Vicki Saporta says in a statement: “Unfortunately, there are many anti-choice extremists who believe that it is justifiable to kill doctors because they provide women with safe and legal abortion care. The Army of God, of which Kopp is a member (see 1982), supports the use of force to end abortion. [V]iolence against abortion providers is never acceptable or justified.… One trend we have documented is that when one murderer is brought to justice another one is quickly recruited to become the next assassin. Kopp’s trial must not lead to another series of assassination attempts directed at physicians who perform abortions. We, therefore, continue to urge law enforcement to remain especially vigilant in enforcing the law and prosecuting those who would use violence to advance their own personal, political agendas.” [National Abortion Federation, 3/17/2003]
James Kopp, convicted of murdering abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian (see March 17-18, 2003), is found guilty of violating the FACE Act, which makes it a crime to deny access to women’s health clinics (see May 1994). Because of the severity of his violation, Kopp is sentenced to life in prison without parole. Assistant US Attorney Kathleen Mehltretter says in court filings: “The fact that the defendant has been convicted in New York State Court is irrelevant to this proceeding. The United States has the obligation and the right to enforce its criminal laws.” [Buffalo News, 1/7/2007; National Abortion Federation, 2010]
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