News & Politics
Revolutionary Cookbooks and Theocratic Revolution
April 25, 2000
While the trial of alleged Oklahoma City bomber Tim McVeigh has focused national attention on the threat of neo-nazi violence in the U.S., there is much more far-right violence in the United States than is generally reported. From bombings to political assassination, these crimes are less often the acts of "lone nuts" and more likely to be the result of cold calculations of people acting on their ideas. The persistent attacks on health facilities that provide abortions provides a case study in how seemingly inexplicable and unrelated violence over the past 15 years has been carried out in large part by people who have also publicly called for the over throw of the government of the United States in their books, newsletters and public pronouncements.In the first 6 months of 1997 there have been a dozen arsons at womens health centers around the country. According to federal statistics, there have been about 200 arsons and bombings at womens health centers in the U.S. over the past 15 years. Episodes of stalking, harassment, death threats and bomb threats number in the thousands. In an attack against the Lovejoy Surgicenter in Portland, Oregon in May, a 55 gallon drum of fuel oil was siphoned into a clinic in the dead of night and set ablaze, causing an estimated $500,000 damage. Such violence generally comes about because of the desire to enforce what some people believe to be "Gods laws," and to wage a long term guerrilla war if necessary to create a more theocratic society.A Terror Manual In Every Home?In one famous example, the shadowy Army of God made news earlier this year when a letter, released by a group calling itself the Army of God (AOG) was sent to the media taking credit for the pipe bombings of an abortion clinic and a gay bar in Atlanta. While law enforcement authorities doubt the "authenticity" of the letter, the letter provided a chilling reminder of another group by the same name. The AOG first emerged in the early 1980s claiming credit for dozens of clinic bombings, arsons and related crimes at abortion clinics. Following the arrest and conviction of several AOG operatives, the group seemed to have disappeared at least calls were no longer made to claim credit for clinic bombings. However evidence of its ongoing activity was literally unearthed by federal agents from the backyard of Oregonian Shelly Shannon in 1994. (Shannon was convicted of the attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller, of Wichita, Kansas, and a series of arson and butyric acid attacks against clinics in three states including an attack on the Lovejoy clinic.) What the Feds found, was the AOG manual, an instruction book on how to blockade, bomb, and otherwise attack clinics. (It also includes the recipe for the same kind of "fertilizer bomb" that was used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.)"This is a manual," according to the anonymously written text, "for those who have come to understand that the battle against abortion is a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the devil and all the evil he can muster among flesh and blood to fight at his side." It also describes the U.S. as a "nation under the power of Evil Satan, who prowls about the world seeking the ruin of the souls of mankind."Anne Bower, editor of the pro-choice magazine The Body Politic, who has studied the AOG, writes that "there is a network of men and women in America who advocate and will attempt violence, even to the point of murder for their cause They see themselves as soldiers in a grand cause, the Army of God." At this point in time, the AOG seems to be less an organization than an idea, but its an idea based on at least one text in common. Don Treshman leader of the Houston-based anti-abortion group Rescue America, (since moved to Baltimore) gave an interview to the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) following the 1994 attempted assassination of Dr. Gary Romalis in Vancouver, British Columbia. Treshman described the still-unsolved shooting of the doctor as a "superb tactic" foreshadowing a possible "major civil war." In this context, he also discussed the AOG manual:CBC: "Its a self-help manual on how to blow-up abortion clinics. Treshman: "Well, it goes into more than that too. I think it covers actions at the abortionists home."CBC: "Its advocating violence."Treshman: "Well, I think its just merely mentioning some ways some people have gone about things."CBC: "How to make a better bomb."Treshman: "Yes. We think that in the spirit of free press its certainly something that every home should have."Covert Action and A Public MartyrThe best known proponent of vigilante violence is former minister Paul Hill, who now sits on death row for the 1994 shotgun murder of a doctor, an escort, and wounding of another escort in Pensacola, Florida. His crimes were preceded by over a year of media celebrity following the 1993 murder of another abortion doctor, David Gunn. Hills notoriety arose from his published argument defending the murder as a "justifiable" use of "lethal force" to protect unborn children. But Hills manifesto went well-beyond arguing the morality of murder -- to call for armed theocratic revolution, or what he called "a defensive war under a lower magistrate," (meaning lower level government officials, such as mayors, governors, even county executives). Insurrection would be "unwise," Hill continued, however, "until there are enough men and resources available to offer a reasonable hope that the effort to overthrow the existing government will be successful." In the meantime, he urged the formation of armed militias, in order to "individually and corporately take all just action necessary to protect innocent life." Hill later told USA Today, "I could envision a covert organization developing, something like a pro-life IRA." Among those who, at the time, endorsed Hills view of "justifiable homicide" were Rev. Matthew Trewhella and Rev. Joe Foreman, co-founders of the Milwaukee-based anti-abortion group Missionaries to the Pre-Born. They also founded related project, Prisoners of Christ, which supports people convicted of anti-abortion related crimes, including some known to be connected to the AOG: John Brockhoeft (arson), Don Benny Anderson (kidnapping), and Shelley Shannon.One of the influences on Hill was undoubtedly his friend and ally, Rev. Michael Bray of Bowie, Maryland, who in the late 1980s served 46 months in federal prison for conspiring (scouting the facilities and helping to plan) to bomb seven womens health centers, as well as the Washington offices of the ACLU, and the National Abortion Federation. Bray emerged as a theorist following his release from prison, writing in 1990 for example, that "one of the great political potentials of the Rescue Movement" was revolution under "lesser magistrates" in order to "resist the tyranny of the federal government."Revolution Against Satans KingdomBray was not the first to see the Operation Rescue in revolutionary terms. During the heady days following the big OR demonstrations at the 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Christian Right theorist Gary North also sniffed revolution in the air. "[I]n the philosophical war against political pluralism," he wrote, "Christian leaders can see where these protests may be headed, even if their followers cannot". Any "mature" Christian, he argued, must become "a revolutionary against Satans kingdom." North saw that the battle over abortion is really about, "extending the revolution" and that "the abortion question" will never be settled "until Satans kingdom is obliterated." Of course, Satans kingdom is anything that has not come under the control of a Christian fundamentalist government and legal code. By 1994, Bray had authored a book titled A Time To Kill, which fleshed out, according to Bray, "the Operation Rescue dictum: If you believe abortion is murder, then act like it. Bray advocates "the principle of revolution and the goal of establishing or preserving a Christian government," and denounces non-violent pro-life activists who oppose clinic blockades and "assassination." In 1995, Randall Terry, the founder of OR joined the ranks of those issuing revolutionary pronouncements, and distributed a rough draft of a book called The Sword embodying these ideas. He told an OR gathering in Kenner, Louisiana that they may have to "take up the sword" in order to "overthrow regime that oppresses them." He called for a theocratic state founded "on the Ten Commandments," and a "culture based on Biblical Law." The Revolutionary Theocratic PartyTerry has for several years been a leader in the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party (USTP), whose presidential ticket in 1996 (Howard Phillips and Herb Titus) also called for "resistance" on the part of "lower magistrates" to Supreme Court decisions that they feel are "unconstitutional" --namely Roe v. Wade; the striking down of Colorados Amendment 2 (which would have banned local gay civil rights ordinances), and the decision which required the admission of women to the Virginia Military Institute. USTP was on the ballot in 41 states in 1996. Another USTP leader, Rev. Matthew Trewhella of Missionaries to the Pre-born made news when in 1994 he announced that "plans of resistance" were being made against the federal government, and called for the formation of church-based militias. The Wisconsin USTP openly sold a militia manual which argued that people should "spring immediately and effectively to arms" because of legalized abortion. Thus it was unsurprising when later that year, Newsweek reported that a man who lived in Trewhellas basement in 1990, had planned a "guerrilla campaign of clinic bombings and assassinations of doctors," but left the movement before acting on his plans. Trewhella claimed no knowledge of these plans. The USTPs role as the political party of choice for theocratic revolutionaries is epitomized by Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America. Pratt, a leading theorist of the militia movement who addressed the USTP national convention last summer, wrote in a 1983 essay that militias were necessary because "[a]nti-Christian governments such as we have in the United States cannot be counted on to keep the peace." Pratt also supported Randall Terrys efforts in 1989 to take ORs finances "underground" to avoid court-ordered fines and judgments resulting from clinic blockades by routing donations for OR through his Committee to Protect the Family Foundation.Pratt, who is a bridge builder among the disparate factions of the far-right, was compelled to take a leave of absence as a co-chairman of Pat Buchanans presidential campaign, after reports linked him with white supremacist groups. Most recently, sounding more like the Montana Freemen than Ralph Reed, Pratt wrote that county sheriffs and other state and local officials need armed militias "to resist any tyrannical act on the part of the federal government."Bombings and assassinations are hallmarks of guerrilla war against any society. What is surprising is how little attention the theoretical works of convicted bombers and assassins and their allies have received. Unless as a society, we become much more familiar with the ideas and theoretical works of anti-democratic forces from neo-Nazis to anti-abortion theocrats, it will be much more difficult to defend democratic values and institutions against them. And it will seem that there are lone nuts are everywhere.Frederick Clarkson is the author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, Common Courage Press, 1997, from which this article is adapted. The book is available in bookstores, or may be ordered by calling 1-800-497-3207.