Concerns mount that suspect in abortion-doctor shooting had extremist ties

In 1996, a Kansan with the same name was arrested with bombmaking materials in his car trunk.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    Rev. Rob Schenck, President of the National Clergy Council, leads fellow anti-abortion activists in prayer before a news conference about their reaction to the killing of Kansas doctor George Tiller, in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, on June 1.
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Analysts who study American extremism are pointing to a 1996 arrest report that, they say, links the leading suspect in the murder of Kansas abortion doctor George Tiller to some of the most zealous antigovernment groups in the United States.

Law enforcement officials currently have in custody Scott Philip Roeder of Merriam, Kan., age 51. Thirteen years ago, someone named Scott Roeder, 38, was arrested in Topeka, Kan., and charged with criminal use of explosives after police found fuse cord and a pound of gunpowder in his car trunk.

He also had a homemade license plate on his car proclaiming he was immune from Kansas law – a type of tag that's been associated with the Freemen organization, which rejects the authority of the US government. Freemen in Montana were involved in an 81-day standoff with US marshals in 1996 after they tried to set up their own system of government.

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The 1996 Roeder case was eventually dropped due to problems with the initial search of the car. At the same time, his name appeared on an FBI watch list of possible Freemen members.

Police investigating the Tiller shooting have not said they are investigating any links between Mr. Roeder and right-wing extremism. But Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research for the Anti-Defamation League, says these two Roeders are almost certainly the same person.

A report in the Kansas City Star, moreover, quotes Morris Wilson, former commander of the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia as saying he knew Roeder, calling him "a fanatic about abortion."

"It's not unusual at all that someone who is anti-abortion might be involved with one of these other kinds of extremist movements," Pitcavage says.

Tiller, a doctor who carried out late-term abortions, was shot and killed Sunday at his church in Wichita, Kan. Witnesses said the gunman fired at Tiller, threatened to shoot others who attempted to intervene, and then escaped in a blue Ford Taurus.

Three hours after the shooting, a suspect was detained in the Kansas City suburb of Merriam, Kan. A spokesman for the Johnson County sherriff's office identified the suspect as Scott Roeder.

To this point all evidence in the Tiller murder case points to a gunman who was acting alone, according to Kansas police.

The shooting comes at a time when federal law enforcement agencies have been worried about a resurgence in right-wing extremist violence.

There has been an upsurge in anger levels on extremist web sites and in group internal communications, he says.

"Two broad things underlie this: the economic crisis, and the election of Barack Obama, which has made the extreme right very angry," says Pitcavage.

Recently the extreme fringe of the anti-abortion movement has become more and more frustrated, adds Brian Levin, director of the Center for Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.

They are facing a situation in which for the first time a majority of US residents consider themselves "pro-choice," according to polls. At the same time, the extremists believe that their leadership has become tame.

Whoever shot Dr. Tiller, "it is someone who not only disagrees with abortion, but more fundamentally disagrees with the democratic process and the whole direction and ethos of the country," says Mr. Levin of California State University.

By carrying out the attack in church, the gunman was likely trying to send a message, he adds.

"These individuals believe that they are in a war for existence, and that they answer to a higher authority," he says.

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