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The FBI arrests Scott Roeder, a member of the anti-government Freemen militia group, after deputies find a bomb-triggering device in his car, along with fuse cord, a pound of gunpowder, ammunition, a blasting cap, and two nine-volt batteries, one of which is wired to the bomb trigger. Roeder, a Kansas resident, is charged with criminal use of explosives, driving with a suspended license, and failure to carry registration and insurance. His car does not have a legitimate license plate; instead, it has a tag identifying him as a “sovereign” citizen and immune from state law. Many Freemen members use similar plates. (Associated Press 4/17/1996) In 2009, Roeder will murder an abortion provider (see May 31, 2009, May 31, 2009, and January 29, 2010).
Dr. George Tiller, one of three doctors in the US that perform late-term abortions, is acquitted of misdemeanor charges that he violated laws governing such abortions. Within minutes of the acquittal, the Kansas Board of Healing Arts announces that it is investigating allegations against Tiller almost identical to the charges rejected by the jury. Prosecutors alleged that in 2003, Tiller had gotten second opinions on late-term abortions, not from an independent doctor as required by law, but from a doctor that was an employee of his. The jury takes an hour to reject the 19 charges. “You would hope it would be over,” says Tiller’s attorney Dan Monnat, “but there is a group of people who want to suppress the constitutional rights of women.” Tiller has maintained that the charges are politically motivated. He has long been a target of violent anti-abortion protests; his clinic was bombed in 1985 and targeted by the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests featuring violent demonstrations, and in 1993 he was shot by an anti-abortion activist (see August 19, 1993). (Hegeman 3/27/2009) Tiller will be murdered by anti-abortion activist Scott Roeder several weeks later (see May 31, 2009).
Police arrest 51-year-old Scott Roeder of Merriam, Kansas, on the afternoon of May 31 in connection with the shooting of late-term-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller in his church that morning (see May 31, 2009). Roeder is arrested about 30 miles southwest of Kansas City after eyewitnesses to the murder provide police with the license number of the killer’s getaway car. (Smith 5/31/2009) 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). Police say they found no weapon in his possession. Roeder’s uncle Clarence Roeder issues a statement this evening: “This is a tragedy for the Tiller family and we feel so badly about that, that Scott would murder the doctor in the Lutheran church. We are also Lutherans, and that adds a double touch of sadness and irony.” Family members say they haven’t seen Scott Roeder since 2000, and he was in and out of trouble in the 1990s. (KMBC.com 5/31/2009) In video recorded by local TV station KMBC-TV, neighbors say Roeder was not a friendly person; a landlord says he was “trouble from the start,” and was “radical” and “strange.” His ex-wife Lindsay Roeder says: “He didn’t think of the consequences this would have for anybody. There were children in that church, children that will remember that for the rest of their lives.” (KMBC-TV 5/31/2009) In 2010, Roeder will be convicted of murdering Tiller (see January 29, 2010).
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).
Fellow anti-abortionists say that Scott Roeder, arrested in connection with the murder of late-term-abortion-providing OB/GYN Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), has long been a hard-line opponent of abortion. Kansas anti-abortion activist Regina Dinwittie, who was ordered by a judge to cease using a bullhorn within 500 feet of an abortion clinic in 1995, says: “I know that he believed in justifiable homicide. He very strongly believed that abortion was murder and that you ought to defend the little ones, both born and unborn.” Dinwittie recounts Roeder confronting Dr. Robert Crist, who worked at the Kansas City Planned Parenthood clinic in 1996: “He stared at him for approximately 45 seconds. Then he [Roeder] said, ‘I’ve seen you now.’ Then he turned his back and walked away, and they were scared to death.” (Thomas 5/31/2009) Dinwittie says she herself is “glad” of Tiller’s death, saying, “I wouldn’t cry for him no more than I would if somebody dropped a rat and killed it.” (Hegeman and Fisher 6/1/2009) After attending Tiller’s trial, Roeder told fellow Kansas anti-abortion activist Eugene Frye that the whole process was “a sham.” Frye says, “He felt justice had not been served.” (Bauer and Thomas 6/2/2009) “In this situation, Scott viewed Tiller as the violent person,” Frye said. “Scott didn’t see himself as that. He saw this man as perpetrating murder on these innocent babies.… Scott had that conviction.” (Bauer and Thomas 6/5/2009) Dave Leach, publisher of the Iowa magazine Prayer and Action News, which has said “justifiable homicide” against abortion providers can be supported, and to which Roeder subscribed, says: “Scott is not my hero in that sense; he has not inspired me to shoot an abortionist. But definitely, he will be the hero to thousands of babies who will not be slain because Scott sacrificed everything for them.” (Hegeman and Fisher 6/1/2009) In signing a petition against Tiller in September 2007, someone giving the name Scott Roeder wrote, “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.” (Scott Roeder 9/3/2009) 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).
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)
After his arrest in connection with the murder of late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kansas (see May 31, 2009), Scott Roeder is charged with one count of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated assault. The latter charges are for pointing a gun at two men who were eyewitnesses to the murder. Roeder requests that the court appoint counsel for him and is referred to the public defender’s office. (Finger and Sylvester 6/2/2009) District Attorney Nola Foulston explains that the state will not seek the death penalty, as Kansas law sets out seven required criteria for a capital charge, none of which fit the Tiller murder. The maximum sentence for first-degree murder in Kansas is life imprisonment. (Staff 6/4/2009) 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).
Jeffery Pederson, office manager of the Central Family Medicine/Aid for Women Clinic in Kansas City, says that he reported to both the FBI and local police that a man whose description and license plate matched those of Scott Roeder, the man charged with murdering late-abortion-provider Dr. George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), had glued the locks of the clinic doors. One of the reports was made the day before the killing. “I was just sick,” Pederson says. “That was the plate I gave the FBI Saturday [May 30]. I called the FBI back and said, ‘It’s the same car. It’s the same guy.’” FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton says, “When we are notified when vandalism occurs at a clinic, we look into the matter, but we’re not going to comment on anything regarding that incident.” Kansas City police spokesman Michael Golden says the police report resulting from Pederson’s complaint contained “no suspect information.” (Thomas 6/2/2009) In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, Pederson says that he told the FBI the vandal’s first name, Scott, which his staff knew from anti-abortion protests at the clinic, as well as giving them his license plate number and security camera videos. He also notes that complaints to the FBI of the same man committing similar vandalism in 2000 resulted in no action other than “talking to” Roeder. (Democracy Now! 6/4/2009) A New York Times editorial will later criticize the FBI for not being more vigilant. (New York Times 6/7/2009)
In a phone interview from jail with the Associated Press, Scott Roeder, who is charged with first degree murder in the shooting death of late-term abortion provider George Tiller (see May 31, 2009), complains, “I haven’t been convicted of anything, and I am being treated as a criminal.” Roeder objects to the media attention received by his family, and says, “I appreciate your prayers.” (Gilbert 6/5/2009) He also complains about “deplorable conditions in solitary,” saying he is worried about contracting pneumonia because his cell is cold and he needs a CPAP machine for his sleep apnea. (Kennedy 6/7/2009)
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)
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).
A Wichita, Kansas, jury convicts Scott Roeder of first-degree murder in the shooting death of Dr. George Tiller, one of the few doctors in the country to perform late-term abortions (see May 31, 2009 and May 31, 2009). The jury only deliberates for 37 minutes before handing down its verdict. Roeder admitted shooting Tiller during the trial, said he felt no remorse whatsoever for his actions, and instead justified them by saying he saw no other way to prevent abortions. Roeder will receive a sentence of life in prison; prosecutors say they hope to add restrictions to his sentence that will prevent him from coming up for parole for 50 years. Dr. Tiller’s widow, Jeanne Tiller, says in a statement, “At this time, we hope that George can be remembered for his legacy of service to women (see January 20, 2010), the help he provided for those who needed it, and the love and happiness he provided us as a husband, father, and grandfather.” (Davey 1/29/2010; Stan 1/29/2010)
Roeder Traced Belief to Conservative Televangelist - During the trial, Roeder said that he became a fervent Christian in 1992 after watching televangelist Pat Robertson’s 700 Club. He said he fell to his knees at the end of the show, during the customary appeal to viewers to “commit your life to Christ.” From then on, Roeder said, his Christian views went “hand in hand” with his opposition to abortion. Reporter Adele Stan writes, “The interesting thing in all this is not that Roeder converted to Christianity, but that he did so via a ministry whose definition of Christianity is the demonization of those who oppose the views of those who embrace one particular theological strain of Christianity.” (Stan 1/29/2010)
Abortion Rights Organizations Say Roeder's Conviction Sends Powerful Message to Perpetrators of Violence - Abortion-rights organizations applaud Roeder’s conviction, saying it sends a clear and powerful message to those who would commit violence against abortion providers, and add that it also points up the need for more intensive law enforcement and investigations into those conspiring to commit such violence (see May 31, 2009). “They need to take this investigation to the next stage,” says Katherine Spillar of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “We don’t have rigorous enough enforcement.”
Anti-Abortion Organizations Split on Verdict - Some anti-abortion organizations call the trial unfair, and say that the guilty verdict will breed more violence. Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), denounces Roeder as a “cold, calculated, and despicable” killer, and says Roeder does not represent the anti-abortion movement. However, Randall Terry, the former head of OR, calls the trial a “scam” and contends that Roeder had never been allowed to “really tell his side of the story.” Terry, who now leads a far-right anti-abortion organization called Insurrecta Nex, says Roeder should have been allowed to use descriptions and images of aborted fetuses to help jurors understand why he felt compelled to kill Tiller. Others take Terry’s position even further. “People had said if he were acquitted it would be open season on doctors,” says convicted clinic bomber Michael Bray (see September 1994). “But if you want to see what’s going to stimulate people to do something, you’re inviting more of the same by not giving him a fair trial.” Bray and other abortion opponents say Judge Warren Wilbert erred in not allowing the jury to consider a charge of voluntary manslaughter if it decided that, under Kansas law, “an unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” The judge refused to allow that charge to be considered. (Davey 1/29/2010; Stan 1/29/2010)
Erlyndon Joseph Lo, a law school graduate living in Plano, Texas, is arrested and charged with threatening to use deadly force against a Dallas women’s clinic. He faces up to six years in prison if convicted. The day before, Lo went to the Plano federal courthouse and filed a document affirming that at noon that day he planned to go to the Southwestern Women’s Surgery Center in Dallas and “use deadly force to defend the innocent life of another human being.” His filing reads in part (all emphases in the original): “My life is at stake. I could be MURDERED AND KILLED as early as Friday, April 2, 2010 at 12:00 p.m. NOON in Dallas, Texas (‘TX’) if you do not IMMEDIATELY GRANT MY REQUEST for in the very least a TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER!!! I plan on saving at least one human life in Dallas, Texas at 12:00 p.m. at the Southwestern late-term abortion facility, 8616 Greenville Ave. at Royal Ln. (NE corner), Dallas 75243. My religious beliefs include the beliefs that an individual is alive at the moment of conception, abortion is murder and is the worst murder of all murders possible because these babies are completely defenseless, and I am entitled under my religious beliefs to use deadly force if necessary to save the innocent life of another.… I will try to stop an abortion using oral words, and if words are not enough. I will use physical force if necessary, and if anyone tries to physically stop me, I will overcome that force, and if I must use deadly force to defend the innocent life of another human being, I will.” In essence, Lo attempted to secure a restraining order to prevent law enforcement officers from interfering with his use of violence against clinic workers. Instead of issuing the order, court officials informed the FBI and Lo is quickly arrested. Dallas FBI spokesman Mark White says: “We won’t tolerate threats to clinics. We acted swiftly to ensure that no one was injured and that no act of violence actually did take place.” FBI agents say that, sometime in mid-March, a man matching Lo’s description went to the same clinic demanding to know if his wife had had an abortion there; clinic officials refused to divulge any such information. On March 18, Lo sued Chief Justice John Roberts, in a filing written in his own handwriting and naming himself as his own lawyer, demanding that Roberts order the Supreme Court to immediately stop all abortions throughout the nation. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/5/2010; Trahan 4/6/2010) (Lo also asks for ”$999 trillion in damages” and $1,000 an hour for his attorney’s fees.) (Kashmir Hill 4/6/2010) The FBI notes that during his visits to the clerk of court’s office, “Lo exhibited erratic behavior, including raising his voice at members of the clerk’s office, obsessively washing his hands in the public restroom, and sitting in a court witness room in the dark without authorization to enter the room.” On his Web site, Lo is harshly critical of abortion, predicting he will win his lawsuit against the Supreme Court, and notes that he “challenged President Barack Obama to a public debate on abortion, which he lost by not responding.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/5/2010; Trahan 4/6/2010) Author and filmmaker Roxann MtJoy, writing for the progressive Women’s Rights blog, observes: “Anti-choicers, in general, do not scare me. While I may passionately disagree with their ideology and often their tactics, they are more irritating than anything else. Lo, however, scares me. He scares me because he believes, much like Scott Roeder (see May 31, 2009), that his opinion justifies violence. He believes he has the moral authority to kill those who stand in opposition to him.” (MtJoy 4/13/2010)
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