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The Terrorist Campaign Against Abortion

How violent extremists promote a strategy of maiming and murdering clinic workers that is shrinking women's access to abortion around the country

Jennifer Gonnerman

Tuesday, November 10th 1998

In many ways, the Army of God manual is similar to other publications that have long circulated among antiabortion extremists. Books like the Abortion Buster's Manualand Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion, both written in 1985, suggest some of these same strategies. But the Army of God manual goes several steps further.

The manual recovered in Shannon's backyard seems to be the third edition, which consists of pages added to the end of earlier editions. In the original version, readers are reminded that "non-violence is important." But by the manual's third edition, the Army of God is encouraging readers to blow up clinics. There are recipes for plastic explosives, commentary on the merits of store-bought dynamite, and tips on making bombs with the fertilizer ammonium nitrate (which was used in the Oklahoma City bombing).

For prochoicers who pored over the document looking for clues, the most shocking section was the manual's epilogue. There, the Army of God describes the 1993 killing of Gunn as "the first 'direct hit' attributed to us." Eerily, the manual also mentions that by late 1992, "Douglas Karpen, a baby killer in Houston had been shot. Two accomplices in Springfield, Missouri, had also been shot."

When prochoice leaders stumbled upon this passage, they were stunned. Smeal says, "They were referring to serious incidents that our side didn't even know about." Karpen had indeed been shot in 1992 inside a parking garage near his abortion clinic. And a masked man had fired a sawed-off shotgun inside a Springfield clinic a year earlier, hitting two employees and paralyzing one of them. At the time, these incidents received little publicity.

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Several other recent violent assaults against abortion doctors also slipped under the radar of the national media. Police officials did not categorize these incidents as antiabortion violence, but some prochoice leaders believe the radical fringe of the antiabortion movement may be responsible.

This list of abortion doctors who have been victims of violence includes George Patterson, owner of the clinic where Gunn was killed, who was fatally shot in 1993 in a Mobile, Alabama, parking lot; Paul Hackmeyer, who was shot three times in the chest after two men ambushed him outside his Los Angeles home in 1994; and George Klopfer, who was shot at in 1995 while driving along an Indiana highway.

A War Without Generals

The discovery of the Army of God manual— plus the murder of Florida's Britton in 1994— sparked a two-year investigation by the Justice Department to determine whether there is a national conspiracy to commit antiabortion violence. It found none.

"There were and are cases involving multiple incidents and multiple clinics, but nothing to indicate that this is a national effort," says Special Agent Bernard J. Zapor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which worked with the FBI on this investigation. "We're talking about two or three defendants getting together and doing damage to two or three clinics. That's about as widespread as the cases show."

Many prochoice leaders remain unconvinced. They wonder if the traditional definition of conspiracy applies, since antiabortion extremists appear to have embraced a strategy of "leaderless resistance." Militias also use this organizational strategy, which has been promoted by Louis Beam, a former Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nation leader. "The people who are pushing the ideas don't need to know who's doing the violence," says Adam Guasch-Melendez, who runs a Web site tracking the exremist wing of the antiabortion movement. "The ideas and tactics are there. Anyone can do the violence."

The success of a "leaderless resistance" strategy depends on the distribution of documents like the Army of God manual. Over the last few years, this book has become fairly easy to get even though its author has remained anonymous. Prayer & Action News, a monthly newsletter that gleefully reports on acts of antiabortion violence, published the entire manual in early 1996. David Leach, the 52-year-old editor of the Iowa-based Prayer & Action News, claims he reprinted the book because antiabortion activists had received subpoenas ordering them to testify before a federal grand jury— and hand over their copies of the Army of God manual.

"It was a First Amendment issue for me," says Leach, who has about 200 subscribers. "It's not a crime to own a book. I'm really uncomfortable with government confiscation of books, especially books that are so mild compared with books they publish themselves, like the U.S. Army manuals."

A strategy of "leaderless resistance" would enable antiabortion assailants to commit crimes alone or in small groups without worrying that the Army of God itself will be infiltrated by law enforcement or targeted by civil litigation. The Army of God manual even details the benefits of such a setup: "Fortunately the A.O.G. (Army of God) folks are not a real army, humanly speaking. . . . God is the General and Commander-in-Chief. The soldiers, however, do not usually communicate with one another. Very few have ever met each other. And when they do, each is usually unaware of the other soldier's status. That is why the Feds will never stop this Army. Never. And we have not yet even begun to fight."

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One of four articles in our The Terrorist Campaign Against Abortion feature.

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