One name has popped up time after time in connection with abortion clinic violence. It's been spray-painted on walls and signed in letters. And this week, the Army of God has surfaced again, claiming responsibility for the bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala.
But what is the Army of God? Is it really an organization, or simply individuals using a single name? What's its agenda?
Federal officials and militia-tracking organizations have only a vague understanding of the Army of God. But they say the evidence leads them to believe that the name is used to denote a variety of violent anti-abortionists rather than a cohesive group.
"What's very unclear is whether the Army of God is a real organization or is essentially a state of mind, though it appears to be more the latter," says Mark Potok, who follows domestic terrorism groups for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, Ala.
The name, Army of God, has been used for nearly two decades and in states from Oregon to Virginia. People claiming to be part of the Army of God have vandalized, burned, shot, and bombed. Some have been captured, others are still free. What all actors using the name Army of God share is a desire to end abortion through violence.
THE term Army of God was first coined in 1982, when a man kidnapped an abortion doctor and his wife in Edwardsville, Ill. He called the Federal Bureau of Investigation claiming to be from the Army of God. He was later captured and convicted of both the kidnapping and three clinic bombings in Florida and Virginia.
Other waves of violence - never solved - were attributed to the Army of God in 1983 and '84. Then in 1993, a woman from the Pacific Northwest was arrested for shooting an abortion doctor in each arm in Wichita, Kan. Investigators dug up her backyard looking for evidence and found an Army of God manual, which describes dozens of ways to attack abortion providers.
No major acts of abortion violence were traced directly to the group between '93 and '97, when a letter signed by the Army of God claimed responsibility for bombs set off at an Atlanta area abortion clinic and a lesbian nightclub.
Federal investigators say the key to understanding the Army of God - and perhaps the only link among all the violent acts committed in its name - is the manual. The 125-page book with a spiral binding and picture of a child clutching a doll on its cover gained notoriety in 1993, when it was discovered in the Oregon yard. Today, whole chapters of it can be found on the Internet.
Experts believe the manual has several authors, all of whom have remained anonymous. It is a how-to book on disrupting the work of abortion clinics, describing in detail methods for everything from shooting glue into door locks to cooking up a bomb.
Those close to the Alabama investigation say that while one person or group may be responsible for the bombings in Atlanta and Birmingham, they know of no link between these attacks and previous violence attributed to the Army of God.
Many details of the Atlanta and Alabama letters are similar. Both were sent to Reuters news agency and The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. The penmanship is nearly identical: handwritten in block, capital letters. Federal agents have said that a code established in the Atlanta letter is repeated in the Alabama letter.
The appearance of the letter suggests, if nothing else, that there is some level of networking among the violent members of the anti-abortion movement, pro-choice activists say. "This letter, above all, compels us to go back and look at links between various extremist groups," says Ann Glazier, director of Clinic Defense at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.