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Randall Terry, a former used-car salesman and anti-abortion activist, forms a group he calls “Operation Rescue” in Binghamton, New York. Terry is a protege of Joseph Scheidler (see 1980 and 1985). Terry’s organization focuses on what it calls “rescues,” usually full-scale blockades of women’s health clinics. In many of these actions, hundreds of activists will be arrested. (Kushner 2003, pp. 38-39)
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)
The National Organization for Women (NOW) expands its NOW v. Scheidler lawsuit against anti-abortion activists to include Randall Terry and Operation Rescue, a “spin-off” organization (see 1986) of another defendant in the lawsuit, the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986). Terry and Operation Rescue routinely blockade abortion clinics, sometimes using physical force. (National Organization for Women 9/2002)
Anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), under the new leadership of the Reverend Keith Tucci, conducts a seven-week occupation of three women’s clinics in Wichita, Kansas. Some 2,700 activists and protesters are arrested during the course of events. (Associated Press 7/5/1993; Kushner 2003, pp. 38-39) The occupation is part of what the organization calls the “Summer of Mercy,” which involves a series of clinic blockades, occupations, and harassment of abortion providers, clinic staff, and patients. The event lasts six weeks, and culminates in a rally that fills Wichita’s Cessna Stadium and features conservative Christian activist Dr. James Dobson. One of the clinics targeted is operated by Dr. George Tiller; Tiller will be shot by an anti-abortion activist in 1993 (see August 19, 1993) and murdered by another in 2009 (see May 31, 2009). (Associated Press 7/5/1993) Some of the Operation Rescue members arrested face charges for attacking police officers trying to keep order at the clinics. Tucci and two other anti-abortion organization leaders, the Reverends Pat Mahoney and Joe Slovenec, are jailed until they agree to comply with Judge Patrick Kelly’s order not to blockade the clinics. Two other Operation Rescue leaders, Randall Terry and Michael McMonagle, are ordered along with Tucci, Mahoney, and Slovenec to leave Wichita; when they refuse to comply with Kelly’s initial order to stop the blockades after agreeing to it, Kelly observes, “You are learning for the first time, I think, that you can’t trust a damned thing they say.” Mahoney retorts, “Hell will freeze over before I surrender my constitutional rights.” He, Tucci, and Slovenec promise to return to Wichita despite the court orders and again protest at the clinics. (Associated Press 8/31/1991; Associated Press 7/5/1993) The Bush administration attempts to derail Kelly’s curbing of the anti-abortion activities; the Justice Department files a “friend of the court” brief challenging Kelly’s jurisdiction in the case. “The position we have taken before the Supreme Court of the United States is that the courts do not have jurisdiction, that it is a matter properly handled in state and local courts,” says Attorney General Richard Thornburgh. (Spencer 8/9/1991)
Dr. David Gunn, a women’s doctor and abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, is shot to death by anti-abortion advocate Michael Griffin, while members of the anti-abortion organization Rescue America protest outside his clinic. The protesters scream, chant, and wave signs declaring, “David Gunn Kills Babies.” Griffin steps forward from a group of protesters, yells, “Don’t kill any more babies!” and fires three shots into Gunn’s back as he is exiting his car. Gunn dies during surgery at a nearby hospital. Griffin informs police that he shot Gunn with a .38 revolver he is carrying, and surrenders to police officers without incident. Steve Powell, an employee at the office park which houses the clinic, later tells reporters that the Rescue America protesters seemed “just happy” after the shooting. Gunn had just opened the clinic a month before, and commuted to work from his home in Eufaula, Alabama. Gunn’s is one of two clinics providing abortions in Pensacola; the city also houses three “abortion counseling” facilities, operated by anti-abortion groups whose objective is to convince women not to have abortions. Gunn has received threats for several years, but in recent months the threats have become more dire. Recently, anti-abortion group Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986) featured Gunn in a “Wanted” poster (see 1995 and After) distributed in Montgomery, Alabama; the poster included Gunn’s photo, home phone number, and other identifying information. OR spokeswoman Margeaux Farrar says the organization knows nothing about the posters and did not print them. The Reverend Joseph Foreman, one of the group’s founders, says Gunn’s murder is just the beginning if the government continues to try to “silence” anti-abortion protesters. Foreman tells reporters, “I’ve been saying for years that if the government insists on suppressing normal and time-honored dissent through injunctions, it turns the field over to the rock-throwers, the bombers, and the assassins.” Many of Griffin’s colleagues and fellow protesters will argue that Gunn’s murder was “justifiable.” Many of those advocates are members of a newly formed organization, the American Coalition of Life Activists (ACLA—see July 1993). (Booth 3/11/1993; Clarkson 12/2002; Kushner 2003, pp. 39; CBS News 4/19/2007) Griffin will be represented by Florida lawyer Joe Scarborough at some court proceedings, though Scarborough will not represent him at his actual trial. Scarborough (R-FL) will go on to represent his Florida district in the US House of Representatives. (Berke 10/25/1994)
As the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986) prepares to launch a wave of protests during its summer “Cities of Refuge” offensive (see July 9-19, 1993), the Orlando Sentinel publishes an extensive examination of the organization, titled “Inside Operation Rescue.” The article examines the large number of protesters who have just graduated from the Institute of Mobilized Prophetic Activated Christian Training (IMPACT), a 12-week “boot camp” aimed at giving protesters intensive training in protest and harassment tactics against abortion clinics, medical personnel, and clients.
Tactics Glean Information, Gain Access, Enable Harassment and 'Sidewalk Counseling' - Some tactics, the article notes, are familiar to private detectives: “[t]rack down license plate numbers to obtain addresses of clinic employees, then follow them to supermarkets, hotels, and other public places where they can be confronted. Snap photographs. Run video cameras. Find Social Security numbers and check financial records. Infiltrate clinics by posing as patients. Befriend a clinic worker’s son, then preach to him about the sins of his mother. Dig up dirt through court and other government records. File as many lawsuits as possible.” Lawyers and private detectives explained to the IMPACT members how far they could push the freedom of speech and privacy laws in order to successfully harass and intimidate medical personnel and clients, including the use of sophisticated surveillance equipment, of toxic chemicals to be sprayed into clinics, and of bomb threats and death threats left on home and clinic answering machines. (OR officially denies using such tactics.) The graduates learned the techniques of “sidewalk counseling,” which involves targeting pregnant women and “counseling” them not to have abortions, using dolls and photographs of aborted fetuses when necessary. They learned how to use their own children to shield them from police officers, sometimes even pushing the children into police cordons to be arrested. Others learned how to masquerade as women seeking pregnancy counseling in order to gain access to the clinics, and how to disrupt operations once inside the clinic; these women are called “truth team” members. Some were trained to befriend pregnant women or their family members, and use information gleaned from the encounters to target them at their homes or places of work. Some even learned a technique they call “invoking a curse” on recalcitrant pregnant women or medical personnel, a technique one OR member calls the “save ‘em or slay ‘em” tactic.” (One pro-choice activist tells reporter Sarah Tippit, “I’ve had these people stand in my face and scream at the top of their lungs, ‘I pray for your death in the name of God, in the name of Jesus.’”
'FemiNazis' and 'Human Pesticides' - The group’s rhetoric includes labeling birth control pills “human pesticides,” and calling women who support abortion choices “femi-Nazis,” “lesbians who want to deny the true role of women,” and “Aryan supremacists” who fear that poor minorities will someday overrun them. One woman explains to a reporter how Christian women practice birth control: “God will open and close your womb” as necessary.
Practicing Techniques on Florida Clinic - OR calls the training “preparation for spiritual warfare.” Florida resident Meredith Raney, an IMPACT graduate, says, “Anything we can learn and use to embarrass or encourage anyone, especially doctors, to stop working, we’ll use it.” The Melbourne, Florida, Aware Woman Clinic for Choice is targeted for “practice” protests by IMPACT graduates readying for the summer offensive. The protesters jam the telephones of the clinic with thousands of phone calls designed to keep potential clients from contacting the clinic, and swarm the clinic on a daily basis. In response, the clinic and pro-choice groups assemble a group of defenders—bikers, off-duty police officers, and volunteers whose responsibility is to keep the protesters from invading the clinic or blocking traffic to and from it. A surveillance video camera and microphone record the events taking place in the parking lot and on the sidewalks around the clinic. On the day Tippit covers the protest at Aware, many of the techniques are in effect, including “sidewalk counseling,” harassment and challenging of clients (some of whom have removed the license plates from their cars, or walk through the crowds of protesters brandishing baseball bats or stun guns), and pushing children into the arms of police officers to be arrested. (Tippit 6/6/1993)
OR Leader Tells of Training - In a February 1993 interview conducted for the anti-abortion publication The Forerunner, OR leader Keith Tucci told of the two months of training his organization was holding for the event, which, according to the interview, is “not just to block abortion clinics, but to also influence every facet of society in ridding our nation of legalized child killing.” Interviewer Jay Rogers, referring to the 1991 Wichita blockade, asked, “So instead of having one Wichita, there will be six?” and Tucci responded, “Exactly.” Tucci said that participants would be taught “everything from ‘spiritual warfare’ to ‘How to use the media before they use you.’” He went on to say that OR’s intent was to dissuade communities from allowing abortions to be practiced within their limits, and asked: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the politicians let abortion be legal, but there wasn’t a community in the country who would let an abortionist practice?… We’ve got to make it intolerable and only then will we make it illegal.” (Rogers 2/1993)
The anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986) targets abortion and women’s clinics in seven states, as part of a 10-day event it calls “Cities of Refuge.” It intends to close or disrupt clinics in Cleveland, Ohio; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; San Jose, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; Jackson, Mississippi; and several cities in central Florida. The event harks back to the 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” which blockaded three clinics in Wichita, Kansas, for 46 days (see July-August 1991), and a smaller blockade in Buffalo, New York, in 1992. City councils and police officials in Cleveland, San Jose, Philadelphia, and St. Paul are taking measures to ensure the safety of doctors, staff members, and patients; Philadelphia police officer John Norris says, “We’re ready for anything that comes down the pike.” Activist Eric Johns and his wife Michelle are in Jackson preparing for the protests. He tells reporters: “We hope to put these places out of business, expose abortionists to their community, embarrass them for what they do, expose staff workers at these places, and eventually shut down the whole isly abortion industry in the state of Mississippi. I think I have a biblical responsibility and am commanded by God [sic] to do what I’m doing.” Jeanie Hollis of the Mississippi Women’s Medical Clinic in Jackson responds: “They will not close us down. If a patient wants an abortion, we will figure out a way to get them in the clinic.” Dianne Straus of the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Women’s Center says she fears more anti-abortion violence, and recalls the recent murder of a Florida abortion provider, Dr. David Gunn (see March 10, 1993). (Associated Press 7/5/1993; Berry 7/19/1993) As a result of the protests, Florida Judge John Rudd sentences OR leader Keith Tucci to a month in jail for violating a court order during a protest, and blames Tucci for a number of other “good people” being arrested. Rudd actually gives Tucci six months in jail, but suspends the remainder of the sentence on the condition that Tucci obey the court order not to demonstrate inside a “buffer zone” around the Aware Woman Center for Choice in Melbourne, Florida. Rudd also finds 38 other anti-abortion protesters guilty of criminal contempt, and gives them each six months’ probation. Rudd notes an instance in a videotape from one of the protests, when Tucci screamed that a police officer was hurting his two-year-old child; the officer actually placed a protective hand on the child’s back. Rudd accuses Tucci of “hypocrisy and showmanship.” Tucci calls the verdicts an injustice. (Bumpus-Hooper 7/10/1993) A dozen OR activists are arrested in Dallas, after ignoring police orders to stop blocking access to a Dallas woman’s clinic (Bumpus-Hooper 7/14/1993) , and several hundred are arrested in Philadelphia. (Berry 7/19/1993)
Anti-abortion activist John Salvi, a former hairdresser, murders two receptionists at two separate women’s clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Murders Receptionists, Sprays Bullets in Clinics - Salvi quietly enters a Planned Parenthood clinic, asks receptionist Shannon Lowney, “Is this Planned Parenthood?” and then shoots her to death with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Salvi then sprays the lobby with gunfire and departs. Minutes later, he enters the Preterm Health Services building two miles away and kills the receptionist, Lee Ann Nichols (some media sources identify her as “Leanne Nichols”). He again sprays the building with gunfire, but this time flees after security guard Richard Seron returns fire, in the process dropping a satchel containing a second gun and some 700 rounds of hollow-point ammunition. Eyewitness Angel Rodriguez later tells reporters: “He was completely calm and took his time. He kept the gun low on his hip and ran backwards, firing at least five shots. He was trying to scare people, and it worked.”
Shooting at Norfolk, Virginia Clinic - Police identify Salvi through a gun shop receipt he has left behind in the satchel, but are unable to find him until law enforcement officials arrest him for a non-fatal shooting at a women’s clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. In all, Salvi kills two and wounds five more.
Condemnation - Some anti-abortion groups are quick to condemn the shootings. The Reverend Flip Benham, leader of Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), tells reporters: “You don’t use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy.” Eleanor Smeal of the Fund for the Feminist Majority says, “While there are two sides to the issue of abortion, there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their opinions.” Law enforcement officials cannot find direct ties between Salvi and anti-abortion organizations.
'Ready to Go Off' - A woman who attended beauty school with Salvi, Karen Harris, later recalls: “He never showed emotion. He always had a straight face. But the main thing was how he would stare at people. He’d just stare and stare and wouldn’t look away.” Doreen Potter, who employed Salvi at a hair salon, later recalls that he flew into a rage a week before the shootings when she told him he couldn’t cut a client’s hair. After the incident, she will say, “this guy looked like he was ready to go off.” (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995; Daly 3/19/1996; Washington Post 1998; Kushner 2003, pp. 39; CBS News 4/19/2007; Associated Press 5/31/2009)
Federal Authorities Ignored Warnings of Violence at Brookline Clinic - Planned Parenthood officials will later say that they had received an increased number of threats to their Brookline clinic in recent weeks, in part because that clinic is involved in testing the controversial RU-486 “morning after” conception prevention pill. They also say they had requested extra federal protection (see February 1994), a claim the US Attorney for the area refuses to discuss with reporters. (Lemonick et al. 1/9/1995)
Convicted of Murder, Suicides in Cell - Shortly after his arrest, anti-abortion activists will rally in support of Salvi outside his Norfolk prison (see January 1995). In 1996, Salvi will be convicted of the deaths and sentenced to life without parole; soon after, he will commit suicide in his jail cell (see March 19, 1996).
Norma McCorvey, who under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” successfully mounted a challenge to the federal government’s ban on abortion that resulted in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision (see January 22, 1973), has recanted her support for most abortions, according to the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986). McCorvey has quit her job at a women’s medical clinic and joined the group, OR officials say. Her switch is apparently triggered by her recent baptism by OR leader Reverend Flip Benham. According to news reports, the organization “regards as a coup McCorvey’s defection after years as a symbol of a woman’s right to abortion.” Bill Price of Texans United for Life says, “The poster child has jumped off the poster.” McCorvey still supports the right to abortions in the first three months of pregnancy, a position fundamentally at odds with Operation Rescue doctrine. McCorvey also acknowledges that she is a lesbian and that she is uncomfortable with many aspects of conservative Christian life. (Newport News Daily Press 8/18/1995; Waldman and Carroll 8/21/1995)
A Texas jury awards Dr. Norman Tompkins and his wife Carolyn damages of $8.6 million, in a lawsuit the couple filed against anti-abortion activists. The organizations Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Pre-Born, and the Dallas chapter of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986) were found liable in over 10 months of harassment against the couple. During that time, anti-abortion activists picketed the family’s home and offices; followed them to social events, church, and elsewhere; distributed fliers calling Tompkins a murderer; and were overheard by neighbors talking about shooting Tompkins. They left frequent anonymous threats on the family’s answering machine; one such message said in part: “I’m going to cut your wife’s liver out and make you eat it. Then I’m going to cut your head off.” Dr. Tompkins, an obstetrician/gynecologist, eventually quit his practice and the couple moved from their Dallas home. The defendants are liable for $3.6 million in punitive damages, $2.25 million for intentionally inflicting emotional distress, and $2.8 million for invading the Tompkins’ privacy. (Newport News Daily Press 10/29/1995; National Organization for Women 1/1996; Sarah Jones 10/20/2010)
Randall Terry, the founder and former leader of the anti-abortion group Operation Save America (formerly named Operation Rescue), says that his vision of the organization’s goals was not merely to stop abortions in America, but to “recapture the power bases of America.” In a video broadcast on PBS, Terry says: “From the beginning when I founded Operation Rescue, the vision was not solely to end child-killing; the vision was to recapture the power bases of America, for child-killing to be the first domino, if you will, to fall in a series of dominoes. My feeling was, and still is, once we mobilize the momentum, the manpower, the money, and all that goes with that to make child-killing illegal, we will have sufficient moral authority and moral force and momentum to get the homosexual movement back in the closet, to get the condom pushers in our schools to be back on the fringes of society where they belong where women are treated with dignity, not as Playboy bunnies, etc., etc. We want to recapture the country, because right now the country’s power bases are in the hands of a very determined, very evil elite who are selling us a bill of goods. They call it good but it truly is evil. They say, ‘Here, it’s sweet,’ but in reality it’s bitter. It’s wormwood and gall.” (Chamberlain and Hardisty 4/2000 ; Cronin 2002, pp. 440; Feminist Women's Health Center News 2010)
District Court Judge David Coar rules that NOW v. Scheidler, a lawsuit brought by the National Organization of Women (NOW) against anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986 and September 22, 1995), can be designated as a “class-action” lawsuit. Coar certifies NOW as the class representative of not only all NOW members but all women “whose rights to the services of women’s health centers in the United States at which abortions are performed have been or will be interfered with by defendants’ unlawful activities.” Coar later rules that if NOW proves its case, then defendant Randall Terry and his Operation Rescue organization (see 1986) will be held responsible for all acts of terrorism and violence perpetuated by the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN—see 1980 and 1986). Coar rejects the defendants’ argument that their “moral imperative” to stop abortion justifies their violent acts. (National Organization for Women 9/2002)
After 12 years of litigation, the National Organization for Women (NOW) wins its lawsuit against the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN, also known as the Pro-Life Action League, or PLAL—see 1980 and 1986) and other anti-abortion advocates (see June 1986, September 22, 1995, and March 29 - September 23, 1997). The jury hearing the case unanimously agrees that the defendants engaged in a nationwide conspiracy to deny women access to medical facilities. The jury determines that Operation Rescue (see 1986), PLAN, PLAN president Joseph Scheidler, and their co-defendants are racketeers under the RICO Act and should be held liable for triple damages for the harm their violent acts caused to women’s health clinics. (National Organization for Women 9/2002)
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; Clarkson 3/30/2001; Vulliamy, McDonald, and Jeff 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).
Former anti-abortion activist Jerry Reiter, the author of the recent book Live From the Gates of Hell: An Insider’s Look at the Anti-Abortion Underground, gives an interview to the St. Petersburg Times about his book and his days with the controversial anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986). Reiter was media coordinator for the group, but after becoming disillusioned with its violent tactics, became an FBI informant, giving the FBI information on OR and other anti-abortion groups. Reiter now says that some respected conservative Christians have tacitly condoned the violence practiced by OR and other anti-abortion groups during the 1990s. “One of the things that surprised me about the Christian Coalition was that even though it publicly denounced the illegal tactics of groups like Operation Rescue,” Reiter wrote, “when the big national anti-abortion protest came to Buffalo in 1992, Operation Rescue National housed its secret command and communication offices in the basement suite of offices that the Christian Coalition of New York had as its state headquarters.” He says that after entering “the secret command post of Operation Rescue, I was given books on dozens of not-so-peaceful activities, including a book by Reverend Michael Bray advocating the bombing of abortion clinics” (see September 1994). Reiter says that many anti-abortion activists “use the Bible to justify all kinds of evil.” He is still against abortion, but does not advocate legal restrictions on the practice. “I want to see abortions reduced,” he says. “Sex education, birth control, and availability of health care options is the way to go. Those people who oppose abortion are often those who oppose sex education, birth control, and other health care options.” Explaining why he became an FBI informant, Reiter says of his OR colleagues, “I realized that these people were very serious about doing harm to people.” He recalls speaking with Paul Hill, who in 1994 murdered an abortion provider and his bodyguard (see July 29, 1994). Weeks before Hill killed the two men, he told Reiter: “What you’re gonna see next now, brother, is an IRA-type reign of terror [referring to the Irish Republican Army]. There’s too much pressure on all of us, too many people watching us to do anything major under direct orders from the national level, so what you’re gonna see is individuals or small groups of people takin’ action in their own hands to do what the leaders want to see done, but since there won’t be any direct orders given, no one can prove conspiracy.” Reiter says his information did not prevent Hill’s murders, but was able to prevent another spate of possibly lethal violence during a 1994 event in Florida. “If I hadn’t done something at the time, it’s likely they would have been successful and hundreds could have been killed.… I had the most unique background. I was able to see the most radical, most dangerous people in the country as they were formulating their plans.” Reiter concludes: “The mainstream anti-abortion movement has shrunk dramatically and now you just see more hard-core people. It’s not a calm situation. The days of the little old ladies with the rosaries have been replaced with this radical, vitriolic group.… The people around Paul Hill, once he is executed (see September 3, 2003), they are planning to rise up and take action. They are planning to give us unprecedented violence.” (Moore 1/6/2001)
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)
TV station KMBC reports on the arrest of Scott Roeder in connection with the murder of late-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), and mentions an envelope found in the getaway car with the words “Op Rescue” and “Cheryl” and a phone number on it. (KMBC-TV 6/3/2009) Kansas news blogger Justin Kendall finds out that the number is a direct line to Cheryl Sullenger, a senior policy advisor with Operation Rescue, a hardline anti-abortion activism group. Sullenger served two years imprisonment after bombing an abortion clinic in 1988. She tells Kendall she hasn’t spoken to Roeder recently and says: “You know, he’s somebody who’s been around. My name is on the Internet. It’s on every press release. My phone number is on every press release it. It’s all over the Internet. I don’t know. He probably has lots of people’s phone numbers.” (Kendall 6/1/2009) Sullenger says she kept Roeder up to date on court hearings involving Tiller, who was acquitted of failing to properly justify late-term abortions in January 2009: “He would call and say, ‘When does court start? When’s the next hearing?’ I was polite enough to give him the information. I had no reason not to. Who knew? Who knew, you know what I mean?” (Bauer and Thomas 6/3/2009) Kendall also reveals that in a May 2007 comment on an Operation Rescue forum, a “Scott Roeder” advocated attending Tiller’s church—the eventual scene of his murder—with “as many people as possible” to ask questions of church leaders and members and bring attention to Tiller. (Scott Roeder 5/19/2007) In 1996, Roeder, then a member of the anti-government militia group known as the Freemen, was arrested on charges of possessing explosives (see April 16, 1996). In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
Dr. George Tiller, one of the handful of doctors in the USA willing to perform late-term abortions, is shot to death while attending services at the Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas. The 67-year-old doctor is slain in front of several witnesses by a single assailant in the foyer of his church while serving as an usher at about 10 a.m. Law enforcement officials say they believe the murder is “the act of an isolated individual,” but add that they are also looking into the suspected assailant’s “history, his family, his associates.” (Smith 5/31/2009; Stumpe and Davey 5/31/2009) Tiller’s murderer is eventually identified as anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder (see May 31, 2009).
Murder Caps Off Years of Violence, Harassment - Tiller’s murder comes after repeated harassment and violence against him, his clinic, and his patients. In 1986, the clinic was bombed, causing serious damage. In 1991, 2,000 protesters outside the clinic were arrested over the course of the summer. In 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms outside the clinic (see August 19, 1993). During a trial for performing illegal abortions, in which he was acquitted (see March 27, 2009), Tiller testified that he had spent years under the protection of federal agents after the FBI learned in 1994 that he was a top target on an anti-abortionist assassination list. (Agence France-Presse 5/31/2009) In recent months, Tiller had been targeted by Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly, who repeatedly referred to him as “Tiller the Killer.” Tiller’s clinic was defaced with a poster titled “Auschwichita,” that claimed Tiller was like Hitler because he espoused Christianity just as Hitler did. The poster also used the term “Tiller the Killer,” and called Tiller an “equal opportunity executioner.” (Sarah Jones 10/20/2010)
Responses from Family, President, Activists - Responding to Tiller’s murder, President Obama tells the nation, “However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence” (see May 31, 2009). Troy Newman, the president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), says his organization has always sought “nonviolent” measures to challenge Tiller, including efforts in recent years to have him prosecuted for crimes or investigated by state health authorities. “Operation Rescue has worked tirelessly on peaceful, nonviolent measures to bring him to justice through the legal system, the legislative system,” Newman says. “We are pro-life, and this act was antithetical to what we believe.” Newman says that Roeder may have posted on OR-hosted Web sites, but says of the suspect, “He is not a friend, not a contributor, not a volunteer.” The media will quickly unearth deeper ties between OR and Roeder than Newman initially acknowledges (see May 31, 2009). In a statement, the Tiller family says: “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father, and grandfather, and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.” (Stumpe and Davey 5/31/2009)
Progressive author and blogger David Neiwert compiles three years of video evidence that he says proves Fox News host Bill O’Reilly helped target murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009). Since 2006, Neiwert writes, O’Reilly has targeted the man he called “Tiller the Killer” in recurrent episodes of his Fox television show, The O’Reilly Factor, and on his radio show, accusing Tiller of “executing babies” and recommending that “something” be done to stop Tiller from continuing his practice. In November 2006, O’Reilly told his audience: “If we as a society allow an undefined mental health exception in late-term abortions, then babies can be killed for almost any reason.… This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao’s China and Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.… If we allow this, America will no longer be a noble nation.… If we allow Dr. George Tiller and his acolytes to continue, we can no longer pass judgment on any behavior by anybody. What Tiller is doing is that bad.” In the same broadcast, he said: “I don’t care what you think. We have incontrovertible evidence that this man is executing babies about to be born because the woman is depressed… if you don’t believe me, I don’t care.… You are okay with Dr. Tiller executing babies about to be born because the mother says she’s depressed.” O’Reilly claimed that Tiller was a criminal and told his audience, “George Tiller will execute babies for $5,000 if the mother is depressed.” O’Reilly has urged “massive” protests at Tiller’s clinic, once in January 2006, when he said, “There should be thousands of people protesting outside Tiller’s abortion clinic in Wichita.” According to Neiwert, the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (see 1986), which regularly prints O’Reilly’s articles in its newsletter, answered O’Reilly’s call, and O’Reilly used information from Operation Rescue to further lambast Tiller on his shows. In May 2007, O’Reilly described Tiller with the following diatribe: “killer, murder, murderer, barbarian, barbaric procedure, disgrace.” Neiwert writes that O’Reilly is not legally culpable for Tiller’s murder, but he is “morally and ethically culpable.” (Neiwert 6/1/2009; Salon 6/1/2009)
Phoning the Associated Press from his jail cell, Scott Roeder, the suspect in the murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), says, “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” He refuses to elaborate. A Justice Department spokesperson says the threat is being taken seriously, but Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, dismisses it, saying, “This guy is a lunatic.” (Hegeman 6/7/2009) In response, Judge Warren Wilbert raises Roeder’s bond amount from $5 million to $20 million, citing concerns that Roeder could “perpetuate, participate or enact any more violence on his own or in concert with others.” The judge explains that his decision is influenced in part by police having discovered weapons and explosives in his possession in 1996, which he said he planned to use on an abortion clinic (see April 16, 1996). (Hegeman 6/14/2009)
The family of George Tiller, a doctor who provided late-term abortions as part of his practice before being murdered (see May 31, 2009), decides that his Wichita, Kansas, clinic will be closed permanently. Nebraska doctor LeRoy Carhart, who worked at the clinic, said he was willing to continue, but the decision is the family’s. Warren Hern, one of the few remaining doctors in the US who performs late-term abortions, says: “This is what they want, they’ve been wanting this for 35 years. The anti-abortion fanatics have to shut up and go home. They have to back off and they have to respect other people’s point of view. This is a national outrage.” Randall Terry, original founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, says, “Good riddance,” and predicts that Tiller’s clinic will be remembered similarly to Nazi death camps. In a statement, the Tiller family says, “We are proud of the service and courage shown by our husband and father and know that women’s health care needs have been met because of his dedication and service.” (Hegeman 6/9/2009)
After announcing plans to commemorate the death and clinic closing of murdered late-term-abortion-providing OB/GYN George Tiller (see May 31, 2009) by laying flowers at the clinic building, hardline anti-abortion group Operation Rescue changes the location of the event to its Wichita headquarters due to an announced counter-protest by abortion rights supporters. However, about ten abortion opponents return to the clinic in the evening to lay hundreds of flowers, after the abortion rights supporters have left. (Operation Rescue 6/20/2009) Marla Patrick, state co-ordinator for the National Organization for Women, which organized the counter-protest, says: “Our original intent was to prevent them from doing their proverbial dance on a murdered man’s grave. The fact they changed plans tells me we were successful.” (Hegeman 6/20/2009) Suspicions persist of murder suspect Scott Roeder’s connection with Operation Rescue (see May 31, 2009).
Randall Terry, the former head of the extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, gleans headlines during health care protests in the Southeast. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, Terry is nearly arrested while standing outside the federal courthouse stabbing baby dolls. In Nashville, one of Terry’s supporters dons an Obama mask and pretends to assault passers-by. One Nashville resident who witnesses the activities tells a local reporter: “It’s an angry white man in a black man’s mask. They’re just trying to shock people. They’re trying to say, ‘Barack Obama doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t care about your kids, because he’s black.’” During the same protest, Terry and an elderly supporter put on a bit of street theater: the elderly lady mimes seeking medical advice from Terry, who is dressed in a doctor’s jacket, and he pretends to stab her in the neck with a needle and kill her. According to Salon reporter Alex Koppelman, Terry’s twin messages in the protests are his opposition to abortion and to euthanasia—neither of which are supported in any health care reform bills before Congress. Before the protests, Terry wrote his supporters an e-mail: “It is refreshing to see the rage expressed at ‘town hall meetings.’ However, much of this anger is not about child-killing. It’s about the cost of the bill, or rationing, or if we can keep our current plan, or about treatments for the elderly. Our goal is to keep child-killing and euthanasia in the center of this debate until any vestige of taxpayers paying for murder is gone.” (Koppelman 8/24/2009) At a Virginia rally soon after, Terry’s group re-enacts slave beatings (see August 24, 2009).
A women’s clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Family Reproductive Health Clinic, is targeted with a series of “Wanted” posters naming the clinic’s doctors, and claiming they are “Wanted Dead or Alive” for the “crime” of abortion. The posters read in part: “We would like to introduce you to [two named doctors]. Their specialties are obstetrics, gynecology, and murder. Not only do these two men assist women and deliver babies, but they also harm women and kill babies.… You may contact them at their office or the clinic in which they perform the abortions.” The posters list the addresses of the named doctors’ private practices. The practice of anti-abortion organizations using such posters began as early as 1995 (see 1995 and After) and was ruled an illegal threat in 2002 (see May 16, 2002). The practice has allegedly resulted in the murders of three abortion doctors (see March 10, 1993, December 30, 1994 and After, and October 23, 1998), who were all named in similar “Wanted”-style posters. The practice has continued in spite of the court verdict (see January - April 2003). The clinic has been targeted for closure since 2002, when the Reverend Flip Benham, the head of Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue—see 1986), moved to the Charlotte area and vowed to shut it down. Since then, Benham and his group’s members have harassed and intimidated the clinic’s staffers and patrons; Benham has been videotaped screaming at patients that “Satan will drink the blood of your babies” and that the women will “go to your deaths” if they have abortions. Benham and his followers often use microphones amplified to what a clinic official calls “deafening levels” to speak to the patients, “swarm” patients’ cars as they enter the parking lot, and follow them up to the doors of the clinic, often stepping within inches of the patients as they harangue them. The clinic official says of the patients, “We try to prepare them for this when they make their appointment, but until you go through something like this, you can’t imagine what it’s like.” The police do little to curb the protesters’ actions, the official says. (Joffe 9/2009)
The anti-abortion organization Operation Save America, formerly known as Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), holds a press conference near the site of the 9/11 attacks to claim that terrorism directed against the US will continue, with the blessing of God, until abortion is made illegal. The organization also calls the Obama administration a “tyrannical government.” According to a pre-conference statement released by OSA assistant director Rusty Lee Thomas: “We are going to New York City at this hallowed time not to politicize September 11th, but to present a prophetic message, that if heeded, may prevent future attacks and restore God’s hand of blessing upon our beleaguered nation. Our sins of child-killing (abortion) and homosexuality have reached heaven. They are the roots of America’s troubles; a tyrannical government and the threat of Islam are the horrific fruits that are being produced under our watch. There is a direct connection between our spiritual and moral state and the litany of woe afflicting our nation. If America desires to secure a future and a hope for our children and grandchildren, we must end the American holocaust; quit parading our sin like Sodom, and return to the God of the Bible and His principles that served our nation so well in times past.… Since 1973 America has murdered FIFTY MILLION precious little children by abortion. The Bible warns that bloodshed follows bloodshed. We have sown domestic terrorism in the womb and we are reaping Islamic terrorism without. America is being turned over to her enemies. Our only hope is to REPENT of murdering our children and return to God through the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the world. If we repent and end abortion, God will deliver us from the evil of Islamic terrorism. But if we refuse, our enemies will continue to afflict our nation. We will continue to reap what we have sown.” (Right Wing Watch 9/9/2010; DeBranco 9/10/2010)
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