Radical Foes Of Abortion Copy Tactics Of Militias
Strategy includes use of 'paper terrorism' to harass doctors who perform abortions.
ASHLAND, ORE. — Barnett Slepian, the doctor slain recently in upstate New York, and Eric Rudolph, the fugitive hiding out in the mountains of North Carolina, may not seem to have much in common. But together they appear to illustrate a growing overlap of interest - and action - among anti-government radicals and those opposed to abortion.
Increasingly, "Patriots," white supremacists, "Christian Identity" adherents, the Ku Klux Klan, and other sectors of the far-right are taking up abortion as a major cause. At the same time, some in the pro-life movement are adopting the methods of antigovernment radicals, such as the "paper terrorism" tactic of filing phony liens as a form of harassment against doctors who perform abortions.
"There's been a real convergence between these two movements, and it's speeded up recently," says Mark Potok, editor of Intelligence Report, a quarterly journal that tracks the radical right for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Birmingham, Ala.
Of particular concern to law-enforcement officials around the country is the apparent move toward a violent "leaderless resistance" by some opposed to abortion - the same tactic advocated in some militia circles. This includes attacks by a single individual - working alone or perhaps as part of a small "leaderless cell" unconnected to any known organization. (This was the mode of operation for Timothy McVeigh, convicted of blowing up a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.)
"Eric Rudolph typifies that for me," says Dallas Blanchard, chairman of the sociology department at the University of Western Florida in Pensacola and author of several books on the pro-life movement.
"Now, I'm having to track both militias and anti-abortion groups," adds Dr. Blanchard.
Attacks in Atlanta
Mr. Rudolph, who is on the FBI's "10 most wanted" list, is a suspect in the bombing of an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Ala., last January. Last month, the United States Justice Department named him in connection with the bombings of an abortion clinic, a lesbian bar, and the site of the 1996 Olympics - all in Atlanta.
Law-enforcement officials and other experts would not be surprised if those attacks were carried out by the same group or individual. In the philosophy of the extreme right, abortion, homosexuality, and "one-world government" symbolized by the UN all are viewed as targets.
Mainline pro-life activists are quick to denounce violent tactics.
When Dr. Slepian was shot and killed at his home in Amherst, N.Y., Oct. 23, the directors of the anti-abortion group Women and Children First immediately called the attack "morally and ethically wrong."
"This repugnant act is exactly what the right-to-life movement has been against for years," said Sally Winn and Steven Ertelt in a press statement. "Vigilante acts of violence such as this are reprehensible because no one's right to life should ever be denied by another person."
Still, the number of violent attacks against clinics and those who work in them has increased in recent years.
Last Friday, abortion clinics in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee received threatening letters claiming to contain a deadly anthrax bacteria. Several dozen clinic workers were given precautionary treatment. (Some militia extremists have talked about using biological weapons, including anthrax.) That same day, what turned out to be a fake bomb was sent to the same clinic in Birmingham where a guard was killed and a nurse seriously injured in the January bomb attack tied to Rudolph.
So-called "silent warriors," especially those who believe in the fundamental inferiority of non-Christians and people of color, often take it upon themselves to act in this way, says Kerry Noble, a former member of the violent white supremacist group known as Covenant, Sword, and Arm of the Lord.
In recent years, says Mr. Noble (who now speaks and writes against such thinking), some groups have broadened their interests beyond race hatred and anti-Semitism to homosexuals, abortion, and the "New World Order" as well - subjects that not only fit their philosophy and theology but also are more acceptable recruiting tools.
Overlapping this is the movement by militias and other antigovernment groups to add abortion to their list of concerns, along with gun control, property rights, and environmental regulation.
"Each group looks to the other for support," says Mark Pitcavage, a specialist on right-wing extremist groups who works for the US Justice Department's State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training Program. "They realize how congruous they are in this regard, and because of that there is an attempt to build bridges."
Losing or winning the battle?
Dr. Blanchard of the University of Western Florida in Pensacola (where the first killing of a doctor who provided abortions occurred in 1993) says the recent increase in violence by those opposing abortion "is an indication that they're losing the battle."
Not only have federal courts upheld Roe v. Wade (the 1973 case making abortion legal), but laws have been passed limiting pro-life demonstrators' access to clinics.
Others say that domestic terrorism aimed at abortion clinics and the doctors who work in them - whether or not it comes from those with strong antigovernment beliefs - is having its intended effect.
"Abortion may remain legal in this country, but there will soon be so few providers that access will become limited and in some cases unavailable," warned Pablo Rodriguez, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, in an op-ed column in The New York Times last week.