On this page there are four articles. The first Not A Lone Wolf by Amanda Robb, then Violence of the Lambs: The Legacy of Anti-choice Extremist Father Norman Weslin by Kathryn Joyce. The third article is Atlanta: Operation Rescue By Leilani Corpus and last Two Real American Heroes, Dennis Malvasi and Loretta Marra.
The first two are by abortion supporters, the second two from anti-abortion sources.
Not A Lone Wolf
Scott Roeder is now serving a life term for murdering abortion doctor George Tiller. But did he really act alone?
By AMANDA ROBB
AS SOON AS SCOTT ROEDER WAS NAMED THE SOLE SUSPECT IN THE point-blank shooting death of Wichita, Kan., abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of the Reformation Lutheran Church Tiller attended, a predictable story began to be told. Following the lead of a recent Department of Homeland Security report characterizing right-wing terrorists as lone wolves, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, NBC and FOX News all ran stories calling Roeder a “lone wolf” gunman.
It is the oldest, possibly most dangerous abortion story out there.
August 13, 1994, The Washington Post: “Many anti-abortion leaders have… denounced Paul Hill [who killed abortion provider Dr. John Britton and his security escort James Barrett]…as a lone, sick extremist.”
October 26, 1998, The Independent (London): “A doctor defiant [is] shot dead for his beliefs by a lone abortion terrorist [referring to James Kopp, who killed Amherst, N.Y., abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian].”
But for loners, these guys have a lot of friends. A lot of the same ones, in fact.
Over the past six months, I have interviewed Scott Roeder more than a dozen times, met several times with his supporters at the Sedgwick County Courthouse in Wichita where he was tried and convicted, and permissibly recorded numerous three-way telephone conversations Roeder had me place to his friends. Using information gleaned from these sources, along with public records, it is possible to piece together the close, long-term and ongoing relationship between Roeder and other anti-abortion extremists who advocate murder and violent attacks on abortion providers.
Now, meet Roeder’s anti-abortion associates, beginning with Roeder himself. Scott Roeder, 52, was born in Denver. His family moved to Topeka, Kan., when he was a toddler. He worked for the Kansas City electric company, and at age 28, he married and had a son. For about five years family life was stable, but then in the early 1990s Roeder suddenly could not cope—with anything.
While under financial stress in 1992, Roeder happened upon right-wing televangelist Pat Robertson’s 700 Club on television. He claims he fell to his knees and became a born-again Christian. According to his own recollections and those of his ex-wife, he immediately fixated on what he considered two earthly evils: taxes and abortion.
In very short order, he affiliated himself with Christian anti-government groups such as the Freemen militia and eventually became involved with antiabortion groups such as Operation Rescue and the Army of God, the latter of which openly sanctions the use of violence to stop abortion.
Roeder told me that his first act as an anti-abortion activist was to protest outside a Kansas City women’s clinic. Among the protestors he came to know were Anthony Leake, a proponent of the “justifiable homicide”of abortion doctors, and Eugene Frye, the owner of a Kansas City construction company who, together with another antiabortion activist, had been arrested in 1990 for attempting to reinsert the feeding tube of a Missouri woman in a persistent vegetative state. Frye had also been arrested for blockading abortion clinics during the 1991 Summer of Mercy in Wichita, which was organized by Operation Rescue.
Through Frye, Roeder says, he soon met Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon. She, like Frye, had attended the Summer of Mercy protests; over the next two years she would commit eight arson or acid attacks on abortion clinics in the Pacific Northwest. Then, most horrifically, on August 19, 1993, she would try to murder Dr. George Tiller, succeeding only in shooting and wounding him in both his arms.
Roeder says Frye took him to visit Shannon where she was incarcerated in Topeka. Roeder was instantly smitten with the intense, unrepentant shooter. Frye had made a match. Roeder began visiting Shannon without Frye: Over the years, while she served her 30-year-long sentence for the clinic attacks and the attemptedmurder, Roeder would see her some 25 times. As his marriage began disintegrating, he even considered asking the raven-haired Shannon about beginning a romance. But, he told me, he did not because of the obvious obstacles involved in dating an incarcerated woman.
Still, Roeder and Shannon stayed close—and he began contemplating killing Dr. Tiller himself. Maybe it would be a car crash; maybe he’d shoot him sniper-style from a rooftop near Tiller’s clinic. Or maybe he would just cut off Dr. Tiller’s hands with a sword. Roeder testified to all of these at his trial.
While protesting at a Kansas City abortion clinic, Roeder also met Regina Dinwiddie, who had been arrested along with Frye during Operation Rescue’s 1991 Summer of Mercy in Wichita. A nurse from Kansas City, she was the first person to face a civil restraining order under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act because, according to the complaint, she would not stop screaming threats at abortion clinic patients and personnel. The clinic director said Dinwiddie once told her, “Patty, you have not seen violence yet until you see what we do to you!” Dinwiddie, an admitted member of the violence promoting Army of God, was also arrested at Operation Rescue’s 1988 Siege of Atlanta. Authorities housed the anti-abortion activists in a separate unit—which became a terrorist seedbed. Also arrested and incarcerated along with Dinwiddie were Shannon, Jayne Bray and James Kopp. Bray is the wife of Michael Bray, the so-called lifetime chaplain of the Army of God, who was, at that time, incarcerated elsewhere for a series of clinic bomb attacks.
Kopp went on to murder New York abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian in a sniper attack in 1998 at Slepian’s home, and is the lead suspect in the shooting and wounding of four abortion providers at their homes in upstate New York and Canada between 1994 and 1997. It is widely believed some of those jailed in Atlanta in 1988 were involved in the creation of “The Army of God Manual,” in which they receive “special thanks” under monikers such as “Shaggy West” (Shelley Shannon), “Atomic Dog” (James Kopp), “Kansas City Big Guys,” the “Mad Gluer” and “Pensacola Cop Hugger,” among others.
The how-to manual for would-be terrorists provides instructions on vandalizing clinics, including arson, super-gluing locks, constructing bombs and “disarming the persons perpetrating the [abortions] by removing their hands.” The manual was discovered buried in Shannon’s backyard during a search by law enforcement following her attempted murder of Dr. Tiller in 1993.
Back in 1994, Dinwiddie had enjoyed special fame in anti-abortion circles because Paul Hill had stayed at her house two weeks before he shot and killed Dr. John Britton and his volunteer escort James Barrett outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla. Shortly after that double murder, Scott Roeder enters our story again: He is invited to Dinwiddie’s along with Frye to meet a special guest, Michael Bray.
Bray is a linchpin among the extremists; his influence over those who commit abortion-related violence is hard to overstate. Author of A Time to Kill—a theological justification for violence—Bray is a convicted clinic bomber (he served from 1985 to 1989 for his crimes). He helped draft and was the first to sign the “Defensive Action” statement endorsing the murder of abortion providers that Hill began circulating in the months before he killed Britton and Barrett. Shannon says she was moved to violence by reading Bray’s writings; according to her diary, when an early arson attempt failed to produce much damage, she wrote to him in despair, and Bray reassured her, “Little strokes fell mighty oaks.” James Kopp first met Bray in 1983 at an extremist religious retreat in Switzerland and, according to law enforcement sources, stopped at Bray’s home in 1998 as he was fleeing the country after murdering Dr. Slepian.
Bray has obviously privately supported violence as a means to stop abortion since the mid-1980s, but by 1991, he and his wife Jayne were open enough to discuss his views with a reporter from The Washington Post.
“Is there a legitimate use of force on behalf of the unborn?” Bray asks rhetorically. “I say yes, it is justified to destroy the [abortion] facilities. And yes, it is justified to… what kind of word should I use here?” “Well, they use ‘terminate a pregnancy,’” Jayne Bray says.
“Yeah, terminate an abortionist,” he says.
When Scott Roeder arrived at Regina Dinwiddie’s house with Eugene Frye in 1994 or 1995 to meet Michael Bray, he was nearly giddy, by his own recollection to me:
Roeder: I think it was right after Paul Hill…I got to meet [Bray] and I heard that he’d been on 60 Minutes. …I just kept asking Mike [Bray] questions because I was so fascinated with him, you know…As a matter of fact, Gene [Frye] had to tell me to quit asking him
Amanda Robb: [But] did you guys discuss justifiable homicide? If it was justifiable to shoot a doctor?
Roeder: Oh yeah, yeah. We definitely discussed that, and like I say, Michael [Bray], he’s been outspoken, and he’s always said, as long as I’ve known him, he’s always said it’s been justified to do that.
Another admitted Army of God member that Roeder has become close to is Jennifer McCoy. In 1996, she was arrested and pled guilty to conspiring to burn down abortion clinics in Norfolk and Newport News, Va. During her two and a half years in prison, she was in contact with Bray, who honored her in absentia at the White Rose Banquet in Washington, D.C.—an annual event organized by Bray to recognize those jailed for their (mostly violent) antiabortion activities, and attended by many in the extremist network (including McCoy in 1996).
After her release, McCoy began protesting regularly with Operation Rescue in Wichita shortly after its president, Troy Newman, moved the headquarters there in 2002 for the sole purpose of tormenting Dr. Tiller into shuttering his clinic.
As Roeder’s conversations with me have indicated, McCoy has been among his most regular visitors since he was arraigned for Dr. Tiller’s murder, although according to Roeder, they did not know each other before May 2009. But McCoy is close to people Roeder is connected to, people Roeder could try to implicate as co-conspirators and/or accessories, such as Bray or Newman, the latter of whom extremely angered Roeder by denying their acquaintance.
Perhaps this is why McCoy has been more than a supporter; she has been a flatterer and even a fabulist. At one point, according to Roeder, McCoy told him that a 17-year-old woman in Wichita was scheduled to have an abortion but after Dr. Tiller’s murder changed her mind and had the baby. Roeder believed that young woman would testify in court on behalf of his defense that the murder was justified to save lives. But there is no evidence that any woman who was planning to abort her pregnancy before
Dr. Tiller was killed changed her mind afterwards.
In April 1996, Roeder was pulled over by Shawnee County, Kan., deputies for driving without a valid license plate. Instead, Roeder had a tag on his car that read, “Sovereign private property. Immunity declared by law. Noncommercial American.” The kind of plates frequently used by Freemen. And in his trunk he had gunpowder, ammunition and bomb-making materials. Roeder was sentenced to 24 months probation and ordered to stop his association with violence-advocating anti-government groups. He told his son, then 9 years old, that everyone assumed he was going to bomb a federal building (his arrest occurred near the first anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.) But really, Roeder said, he had been planning to bomb an abortion clinic.
After his probation ended, Roeder resumed his anti-abortion activities; in 2000 he was caught on surveillance cameras on two occasions super-gluing the locks at the Kansas City clinic where he frequently protested with Frye. The clinic’s manager says he reported the incidents to an FBI agent who said he would question Roeder. After that, Roeder disappeared for a while. He would be caught on camera again gluing the clinic’s locks both the week before and the day before he murdered Dr. Tiller in Wichita.
Roeder first stalked Tiller at his Wichita church, Reformation Lutheran, in 2002, the year Operation Rescue moved there. Operation Rescue had already begun demonstrating at the church, and on the group’s website Newman had announced plans to gather at Tiller’s clinic, church and home.
Also that year, Roeder says he went to lunch with Newman and asked him about using violence to stop abortion.
Robb: What did you say to him?
Roeder: Oh, something like if an abortionist—I don’t even know if it was specifically Tiller…was shot, would it be justified? … And [Newman] said, “If it were, it wouldn’t upset me.”
According to Roeder’s trial testimony, he became an active and regular participant in Operation Rescue events. He told me he has donation receipts, event T-shirts and a signed copy of Newman’s 2001 book, Their Blood Cries Out, to prove it. During an Operation Rescue event at Dr. Tiller’s clinic in 2007, Roeder posted on the Operation Rescue website:
“Bleass [sic] everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp. Sometime soon, would it be feasible to bring as many people as possible to attend Tillers [sic] church (inside not just outside) …”
Moreover, when Roeder was apprehended for Dr. Tiller’s murder, news cameras photographed a piece of paper on the dashboard of Roeder’s car: It contained the phone number of Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor, who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb abortionclinics in 1988. Roeder also told me that Sullenger was present at the lunch
with Newman where they discussed “justifiable” homicide, and that Newman had given Roeder the autographed copy of his book just three months before Roeder killed Tiller when Roeder visited Operation Rescue headquarters. Sullenger was there as well, Roeder said.
Yet Newman has denied any formal link between Roeder and Operation Rescue. He said to me, “I have no recollection of ever meeting Scott Roeder.” Immediately after Roeder killed Dr. Tiller, Newman issued a statement saying, “We deplore the criminal actions with which Mr. Roeder is accused…Operation Rescue has diligently and successfully worked for years through peaceful, legal means [to stop abortion.]” In his writings, though—his book, Their Blood Cries Out, still for sale on the Operation Rescue website—he talks about the bloodguilt of those who condone abortion. The biblical atonement for bloodguilt is death. Scott Roeder, Eugene Frye, Shelley Shannon, Regina Dinwiddie and Michael Bray all know one another.
Jennifer McCoy and Anthony Leake know all of them, too, except perhaps Shelley Shannon.
Troy Newman knows McCoy, Frye and possibly others.
McCoy, Shannon, Dinwiddie and Bray are admitted members of the Army of God.
“We’re like circles that overlap,” McCoy told me in an anteroom in the Sedgwick County Courthouse near where Scott Roeder was being sentenced on April 1, 2010. “We all don’t know each other—we may not agree on a lot of things, like religion, say—but we’re all completely committed to one purpose: stopping abortion.”
“Uh-huh,” Dinwiddie concurred, looking up from the character statement she was getting ready to give on Roeder’s behalf. “That’s right.”
Across from the women was Frye, along with David Leach—who calls himself the secretary general of the Army of God and is another justifiable homicide advocate. They were working on their statements on behalf of Roeder’s character, too.
They let me sit with them because I said I was Scott’s acquaintance, and also because I’m the niece of Dr. Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider murdered by James Kopp in upstate New York. I was especially close to Bart because he lived with my family
for nearly a decade after my own father died when I was 4 years old. During Roeder’s trial, and again at his sentencing, I explained my presence to his supporters the same way I had explained my interest in him when I had first written to him six months earlier: I really need to understand how someone could be moved to murder to stop abortion.
I feel that I now understand.
Circles that overlap.
One circle encompasses the Army of God, including Bray, Shannon, Leach, Dinwiddie, McCoy and Kopp, the man who killed my uncle.
A second circle includes justifiablehomicide advocates Bray, Shannon, Leach, Dinwiddie, Leake and the murderer Paul Hill, who was executed in 2003 by the state of Florida.
And a third circle holds Operation Dinwiddie and Bray have signed “Defensive Action” (justifiable homicide) statements, stating in part, “We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of force.” Leake has said publicly he supports the use of deadly force against abortion providers.
Rescue, Troy Newman, McCoy and Cheryl Sullenger.
Scott Roeder overlaps with all of them (see chart on facing page).
Police, prosecutors and the military define a cell as a circle of individuals— usually three to 10 people—who are joined in common unlawful purpose. A Military Guide to Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century, a U.S. Army training manual, describes a cell as the “foundation” of most terrorist organizations. Most often, and most effectively, these cells are networked, “depend[ing] and even thriving on loose affiliation with groups or individuals from a variety of locations.”
In international terrorism cases, in organized crime cases, even in drugtrafficking cases, conspiracy charges can be filed when two or more people enter into an agreement to commit an unlawful act. In fact, of the 159 people convicted of international terrorism by the U.S. since 9/11, more than 70 percent were sentenced for conspiracy (or for “harboring” terrorists). Once a person becomes a member of the conspiracy, she or he is held legally responsible for the acts of other members done in furtherance of the conspiracy, even if she or he is not present or aware that the acts are being committed.
The government does not have to prove that conspirators have entered into any formal agreement. Because they are trying to hide what they are doing, criminal conspirators rarely do such things as draw up contracts. Nor does the government have to show that the members of the conspiracy state between themselves what their object or purpose or methods are. Because they are clandestine, criminal conspirators rarely discuss their plans in a straightforward way. The government only has to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the members of a conspiracy, in some implied way, came to mutually understand they would attempt to accomplish a common and unlawful plan.
Given the broad latitude in proving conspiracy, you’d think the same legal theory could have been used in prosecuting slayings of abortion doctors. Yet to date, only the individual murderers of abortion providers have been charged and prosecuted. No charges have been brought against any individuals for conspiracy to commit those murders.
Shortly after Roeder’s trial—when I met Michael Bray and he told me he had only met Scott Roeder after he killed Dr. Tiller—Scott Roeder stopped communicating with me. But during one of our last phone calls, I was able to ask Roeder a critical question:
Robb: Wait, just tell me how it works…when the use of force comes up in conversation, it has to come up sometimes.
Roeder: I’ve always said [it] over the years, and I would see what level of comfort they were willing to talk about it. …Michael Bray, he would talk about it forever. He went on 60 Minutes for Pete’s sake. Other people, they might say, “Well, you know, I just don’t think it’s right.” Then I’d explain to them why, and if they’re still not comfortable with it, I would drop it. I wouldn’t keep pushing it. Regina [Dinwiddie] obviously agrees with the use of force, and Gene Frye, I believe, does.
Roeder, his associates and “The Army of God Manual” could not be more plain. The manual ends, “‘Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed [Gen: 9-6]… we are forced to take up arms against you.”
Taking up arms. Shedding man’s blood. Bloodguilt. Circles that overlap. In other words, wolves run in packs.
Investigative support and research for this article were provided by the Feminist Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project. Research support was provided by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
AMANDA ROBB is a writer based in New York. She has been a contributing writer for O (Oprah) magazine, and her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Newsweek, New York, George, Marie Claire, More, Harper’s Bazaar (UK) and other periodicals.
Article reprinted from the Spring 2010 issue of Ms.
BY KATHRYN JOYCE JUNE 6, 2012
VIOLENCE OF THE LAMBS: THE LEGACY OF ANTI-CHOICE EXTREMIST FATHER NORMAN WESLIN
When Father Norman Weslin, founder and head of the notorious anti-abortion “rescue” group Lambs of Christ, died on May 16, the small handful of remembrances that were sent out in anti-choice circles reflected where he’d stood on the spectrum of the “pro-life” movement: an extremist who lived in the swirl of the most violent faction of the cause, while professing that his was a nonviolent witness.
Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, and most recently the force behind the new anti-abortion “cyber-pub,” Pro-Life Warrior—a website that recently published an article titled “Who Do We Kill Next?,” written by the attorney of an abortion doctor assassin—reminisced about hosting Weslin at his home, traveling with him and being arrested at his side. Troy Newman, the current head of Operation Rescue, declared the priest a “great pro-life hero.”
And the Thomas More Society, a Christian legal defense group that represented Weslin as part of the “Notre Dame 88” (a group of abortion protesters arrested in 2009) praised him as a visionary who was “ahead of his time” in his promotion of nonviolent civil disobedience.
In May 2009, a 78-year-old Weslin came into the national spotlight after years of relative obscurity when he became the face of the large-scale anti-abortion protests at Notre Dame surrounding President Obama’s commencement address. Looking confused—Weslin was moved to a care facility for Alzheimer’s patients in nearby Michigan a short time later—the frail and bespectacled priest was gingerly separated from the six-foot wooden cross he’d been carrying by police, and, in an eight-minute video set to a soaring Christian ballad by Saviour Machine, he began singing “Immaculate Mary,” before collapsing in the arms of his arresting officers.With a bouquet of microphones in his face as he sat on the ground, he rallied to ask, “Why are you arresting a priest for trying to stop the killing of a baby?” A tearful Rick Scarborough asked God to protect Weslin in jail, and the video went viral.
Violence by Another Name
Weslin’s lifetime example of “nonviolent” protest, the Thomas More statement read, was now being used by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in their recent call for Catholics to engage in civil disobedience against the Obama administration’s HHS Health Care mandate.
But for abortion providers and their advocates, Weslin’s nonviolence is just violence by another name. Weslin was a veteran of some of the most highly-publicized clinic blockades of the last 20 years, having been arrested between 70 and 80 times, mostly for entering or barricading abortion providers’ offices.
A former Green Beret and paratrooper, and an army specialist who had been in control of nuclear defense systems for New York City, Weslin became a priest in 1986, six years after the death of his wife Mary, for whom he created a namesake series of homes for unwed mothers. In 1988, two years after ordination, he put his military training to the test when he joined hundreds of other anti-abortion protesters to blockade three Atlanta clinics during the Democratic National Convention, resulting in the arrest of nearly 300 people. It was the moment that launched Operation Rescue as a national brand, and Weslin’s fellow arrestees read like a who’s-who of the violent anti-choice fringe, many of whom are in the orbit of “justifiable homicide theory”: the argument that murder is theologically justified in the defense of the unborn.
There was James Kopp, the 1998 assassin of Dr. Barnett Slepian; Jayne Bray, wife of Army of God chaplain Michael Bray, a convicted clinic bomber and justifiable homicide advocate who wrote A Time to Kill; Regina Dinwiddie, an Army of God member who received the first Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act restraining order for her threats to clinic patients and staff; Shelley Shannon, the perpetrator of eight arson and acid attacks on clinics who would go on to shoot Kansas abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in both arms in 1993; Larry Donlan, of Omaha’s Rescue the Heartland, who drives one of Operation Rescue’s gruesome “Truth Trucks” past the homes of abortion clinic staff; as well as Patrick Mahoney, now a comparatively mainstream advocate as National Director of the Christian Defense Coalition. (Mahoney does not mention the 1988 arrests in his CDC bio, and does not seem to have eulogized Weslin.)
Twenty years later, a number of Weslin’s Atlanta cohort—like Shannon, Dinwiddie and Bray—would become chief supporters of Scott Roeder, the Operation Rescue follower who shot Dr. Tiller at his church in 2009.
The 1988 arrestees were housed separately for 40 days, resulting in the creation of an ad-hoc movement school that the prisoners compared to the civil rights schools of Birmingham jails in the ’60s, with boisterous sermons from various jailed anti-abortion ministers delivered two or three times a day. “It was the greatest experience of my life,” one preacher told David Samuels of the New York Times in a 1999 profile of Slepian’s killer James Kopp, another protester noted by movement peers, before the shooting, for his nonviolence.
This group, investigative journalist Amanda Robb reported, is often credited with helping create a violent anti-abortion handbook, “The Army of God Manual,” that offers guidance on clinic arson, bombing, vandalizing, gluing locks and “disarming” abortion providers by “removing their hands”—an idea that likely inspired Roeder’s alternate plan to cut off Dr. Tiller’s hands with a sword. The first sentence of the manual set the stakes for this class of protesters: “This is a manual for those who have come to understand that the battle against abortion is a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the devil.”
Father Baby Doe
Weslin, reportedly emulating Operation Rescue protest tactics, went on from his arrest in Atlanta to lead the Lambs of Christ—a group of several hundred traveling protesters who called themselves “Nonviolent Victim Souls” or “Victim Souls of the Unborn Christ-Child,” and who were described by the New York Times as “the shock troops of the rescue movement throughout the 1990s.” But they became fiercer than their teachers, leading Operation Rescue to start sending activists interested in heavier tactics—like chaining oneself to clinic doors—to the Lambs.
Led by “Shepherd” Weslin, the Lambs marched on to famous actions in the early ’90s in Burlington, Asheville, Fargo, Wichita, and other cities nationwide. Weslin demanded total control of his troops, telling Samuels, “We are interested only in those who of their own free will would submit themselves totally and completely to the Lamb concept, which places a shepherd in charge. And that shepherd calls all the shots.” The Lambs locked themselves to doors or junk cars, blocking clinic entrances with chains or locks welded to fit tight around their necks. The best locks were so tight around the neck that they couldn’t be cut without risking cutting the protester’s throat, and had to be removed with a grinder, keeping the clinic closed for many more hours.
After one such junk-car-blockade outside Dr. George Tiller’s clinic in Wichita, Kansas, a former staffer told Ms. magazine, “It was just chaos. The women would come in and they were traumatized.”
Kathy Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, says she watched Weslin play a central role in violent attacks against clinics. “Having led defense efforts on many occasions to protect clinics, patients, doctors and medical staff against blockades and invasions Weslin helped lead—in Houston in 1992 and Little Rock, Arkansas in 1994, just to name two—I personally witnessed Weslin using violent tactics and encouraging others to use violence. He led a group of his Lambs of Christ in 1992 in a rampage, ramming through a line of pro-choice clinic defenders who were circling a clinic with linked arms, knocking several to the ground. One woman suffered a concussion,” says Spillar. “He used the garb of a Catholic priest to keep law enforcement authorities at bay.”
Through the blockades, Weslin earned the nickname “Father Baby Doe,” after his Lambs (including many familiar faces from Atlanta) would only give their names as Baby Jane or Baby John Doe when arrested, and sometimes refused to speak or walk. He described these tactics to Samuels:
“We become babies when they arrest us,” Weslin explains. “We can’t walk, because the baby can’t walk. The baby can’t give a name. We don’t have names.” The Lambs would sometimes adopt more extreme measures, including taking emetics before their arrest and lying passively for hours in their own filth, as a baby would under similar conditions.
In 1992, the Lambs’ rescue movement took a turn to the supernatural, as Weslin decided in a Fargo jail that movement members were being attacked by demonic forces that compelled them to flail on their prison beds like fish, levitate, contort their faces and bark guttural threats about coming to get Weslin. “When these Satanic interventions ended,” Samuels reported, “the afflicted Lambs would lie on their beds with peaceful smiling faces and proclaim that ‘the Blessed Mother was issuing little babies out of me, and she loves the Lambs of Christ.’
From that era, Weslin’s activism took a particular emphasis on spiritual warfare, seeing the battle over abortion as part of a larger, unseen fight between angelic and demonic forces. “Unless you understand this is a colossal war between Jesus Christ and Satan, you don’t understand what we’re doing,” Weslin told another reporter in 1992.
The Shouters are the Consolers
In 1993, Weslin traveled with James Kopp and later Shelley Shannon, both of whom would go on to commit acts of violence against abortion doctors. In 1995, Weslin moved to Syracuse, New York, during a period when violence against abortion clinics in upstate New York and Canada had picked up. An Operation Rescue associate, Robert Jewitt, told the Buffalo News in 1998, after Kopp killed Dr. Slepian and became a fugitive, “Father Weslin always looked for people with intelligence and daring.”
After the fury of the ’90s abortion battles boiled over in Buffalo, Weslin went west, and was first seen protesting the Bellevue, Nebraska clinic of Dr. LeRoy Carhart in 2000. Carhart’s clinic and family have long faced extremist violence, suffering arsons at both the clinic and their family farm, where nearly 20 horses and other animals were burned to death in 1991, along with the house and barn.
But after Dr. Tiller’s murder in 2009, Carhart’s Abortion and Contraception Clinic of Nebraska (ACCON) became the chief target of anti-abortion fury. Less than three months after Tiller was shot, Operation Rescue teamed up with Larry Donlan’s Rescue the Heartland and Nebraskans United for Life for the August 2009 “Keep it Closed” campaign, to harass Dr. Carhart out of plans to reestablish Dr. Tiller’s practice. During the protests, witnesses from the Feminist Majority Foundation claimed to see Weslin kicking a pro-choice volunteer repeatedly.
For years, Weslin was among the chief protesters at ACCON, along with Donlan, who has been accused of following individual staff members and making vague threats of public exposure—“you are next,” he shouted at one staffer in 2009—unless they quit. In daily protests, Donlan and Weslin made use of the proximity of the neighboring crisis pregnancy center, A Woman’s Touch Pregnancy Counseling Center, where Weslin’s attorney served on the board of directors.
In a way, it’s a funny overlap for the anti-abortion movement, where crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) have increasingly sought to present themselves as the moderate face of the cause, going so far as requiring volunteers to pledge to not engage in public sidewalk demonstrations outside abortion clinics in order to distance themselves from the image of shouting and shaming protesters. In reality there’s often been substantial overlap between the movement’s clinic shouters and CPC consolers—in some cases, enough of a relationship for CPCs to appear as a de facto staging ground for larger anti-abortion protests. For Weslin, there was no distinction at all.
Christine Wilson, one of Weslin’s disciples, learned to see the abortion fight as Weslin did: as total spiritual war. She is today the director of Gabriel’s Corner, a CPC in Council Bluffs, Iowa, just across the state line from Carhart’s clinic in Bellevue. Gabriel’s Corner is located on a suburban street across from a Planned Parenthood with a wrought iron fence that Wilson envisions as “the gates of hell.”
Wilson’s involvement is another ripple from the Atlanta summer of 1988. Her brother is Pastor Chet Gallagher, a celebrity anti-abortion figure who made national news at the Atlanta protests when he, then a Las Vegas police officer, publicly changed sides and was arrested alongside Weslin. Gallagher was launched on a career of clinic blockades, and today serves as the local leader of Las Vegas’ Operation Save America—a group notorious for distributing “wanted”-style posters of abortion providers, an act that has been judged in federal appeals court as an implicit death threat.
Back home in Iowa, his sister’s CPC continues the legacy of the longstanding but unevenly maintained Mary Weslin Homes for Unwed Mothers, the series of maternity homes Weslin began in memory of his wife. Wilson, who used to go on rescues with Weslin and considered him her spiritual leader—in fact, she considers him “as close to a saint as you’re going to get right now”—had her friends buy another neighboring house so they could “surround Planned Parenthood” with energy associated with various angels and conduct outright prayer warfare.
In 2006, Weslin, who frequently lived with Wilson and her husband or the couple that founded Gabriel’s Corner, was arrested for entering Carhart’s ACCON and charged with a FACE violation, though he was later acquitted. In 2008, he entered ACCON again and was arrested and charged with criminal trespass after kneeling before patients and begging them not to have abortions, then folding into a fetal position, “in solidarity with helpless children in their mothers’ wombs,” according to his lawyers. They described Weslin as “a Roman Catholic priest in his late seventies,” too old to do harm. In his sole statement Weslin said, “I know for sure there was no violence involved.”
In his declining years, Wilson says, Weslin developed dementia, and went to live in a care facility in Michigan run by the wife of one of his Notre Dame attorneys. They helped him continue prayer vigils outside the local Planned Parenthood, and even travel to Washington DC. Weslin’s last arrest would be at Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s congressional office in late 2009, for staging a sit-in while Operation Rescue protesters shredded two entire copies of the health care bill—nearly 4,000 pages in total—and threw them on the floor. In time, Capitol police arrested the protesters, and Weslin got up out of his chair to lay on the ground in Pelosi’s doorway, looking frail, and waiting for the police to carry him away.
Kathryn Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking and the New Gospel of Adoption and Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Her articles have appeared in The Nation, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, and many other publications.
Atlanta: Operation Rescue
By Leilani Corpus
Published November 1, 1988
ATLANTA GA (FR) – Atlanta became the center of the nation’s media attention in early October as television viewers watched pro-life rescuers being kicked, punched, hit and dragged to arrest for protesting abortion at the city’s major abortion clinics in early October. During the turbulent week, city officials were shocked at the brutal police treatment of the hundreds of pro-life activists that poured into Atlanta between Oct. 2nd and 8th as part of an effort called Operation Rescue (OR).
An extreme example of police brutality was the case of one of the “rescuers,” Pastor Doyle Clark, who almost died while imprisoned. He was brutally treated, and hospitalized for a short term. Clark passed out when a policeman, who was doing a classic “civil rights” compliance hold, jabbed his thumbs into his ears instead of the pressure points on his neck.
A United Brethern pastor, Clark had traveled from Indiana to take part in the rescue mission. He was one of the activisits who were thrown into a bus while protesting three major clinics: Hillcrest, Feminist Women’s Health Center, and The Atlanta Surgi-Center.
Observers have compared the rescue effort to that of the late author Corrie Ten Boom who was renowned for her effort to rescue the Jews during the holocaust of World War II. “Corrie Ten Boom went beyond the law of the day when she rescued the Jews and we are here to rescue the unborn.” said a participant. Rescue participants base their involvement on a scripture: “Rescue those who are unjustly sentenced to death” (Proverbs 24:11).
To discourage the massive protests, police donned riot gear, carried billy clubs, and erected a steel barricade to prevent demonstrators from the entrances of the clinics. Police were instructed by Maj. K.E. Burnette in heavy-handed tactics such as twisting arms and the use of pressure points. Several police officers, though, strayed beyond the official boundaries of “compliance holds,” and were kicking, punching, and hitting rescuers with their billy clubs. One priest had his clerical clothes torn off and his collar stuffed in his mouth.
Despite the brutality, some policemen were visibly moved and were reluctant to force the crawling rescuers to stand up. One policeman cried, and asked another for assurance that a pregnant woman they were dragging away from the clinic would not be harmed.
The city of Atlanta did not respond favorably to the brutality, however; Maj. Burnette was given a stinging indictment from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The day before the first rescue, Burnette had informed reporters that he intended to inflict severe pain because the rescuers had a “warped theology.” When asked to define “warped theology,” he refused to comment. However, Burnette explained, “I will use any physical incentive necessary that will bring these people to their knees. They will not tell me what to do.”
Later that week, Burnette changed his tactics due to phone calls and a formal complaint from the ACLU filed with Mayor Andrew Young’s office. Rescuers, reporters, and observers contend that police officers were extremely brutal in their treatment.
OR Spokesman Juli Loesch said she didn’t know anything about the ACLU complaint. “They haven’t contacted us about their activities.” She added that she saw Atlanta-area ACLU Director Gene Guerrero escorting women into a clinic. “If they assisted us legally, it would definitely be a conflict of interests,” she stated.
Randall Terry, International Director of OR, called for the removal of Maj. Burnette after the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial. Terry was arrested on Monday, October 3rd, on charges of conspiracy, and had a $75,000 bail posted. Ironically, Terry’s cellmate, a cocaine dealer with charges of deadly assault, had a bail posted at $54,000. An Atlanta couple paid the bond on Terry’s bail.
Terry had been arrested outside a Catholic church by two plainsclothes policemen while training rescuers on the evening before the event began. At the onset of the training session, a priest told the audience that if anyone had any intention of arresting Terry, he should take care of it outside since they were meeting in a “house of God.” Terry was then escorted outside by the two officers.
Rescuers were trained to take the “most non-aggressive posture you can take while attempting to occupy the door,” said Loesch. “They were trained and instructed to walk and not run. There was no shouting, chanting, or picket signs.” When they were within 15 feet of the policemen, they were instructed to stay on their knees and crawl. “They were as aggressive as a throw rug,” she said. “This was to display the humility that Christ had before His accusers.”
Besides protesting at the three abortion facilities, the rescuers also went to MidTown Hospital. “As a policy we don’t protest at hospitals,” said Loesch. “But MidTown’s services are solely geared towards giving third trimester abortions.”
Arrested and charged with failure to disburse, unlawful assembly, and failure to give their names, (some had given their names, however,) bail was set at $2,000 for most rescuers. When the bond had been paid, and the paperwork had been processed, Loesch said, jail authorities continued to delay their release.
The rescuers weren’t the only ones harassed by police. Several major news stations said they were also threatened with arrest if their cameramen filmed rescuers being arrested. Al J. Briganti of CBS News said he and his crew were told by police, “You can shoot in this direction (toward the clinic) and we won’t arrest you. Shoot in the other direction (where rescuers would be arrested) and we will arrest you.” While following OR leader Randall Terry, Briganti said they were stopped by police and the news van’s license number was taken. “It was clear we were the only people stopped,” said Briganti. “The only people they were interested in stopping were the television cameramen.”
Former 1960’s civil rights demonstrators who are now city and state officials agree that the police action was unnecessary. A black City Councilman, Hosea Williams, who marched with the late Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “I think what is happening in Atlanta right now is just terribly anti-American. It hurts me so bad that we who were the leaders of the movement in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, are now the political leaders, and we are doing the same things to demonstrators that George Wallace and Bull Connor and those did to us.”
Williams also blasted the department and the city for their unwillingness to tolerate peaceful dissent. “When I saw the police twisting arms and bending fingers and using pressure points, well that’s the way Adolf Hitler got started,” he said. “I was very hurt and surprised at the way the anti-abortion demonstrators were mistreated.”
The police department is currently being investigated by a city council committee in response to complaints filed by the demonstrators – particularly the case of one rescuer who was kicked by an officer. Councilman Dozier Smith said, “I think it was a sad day for the city of Atlanta when a police major is (seen) on television kicking a person.”
Although abortion clinic staff attempted to continue operating with volunteer escorts leading clients through the crowds, sources say the clinics were actually closed the entire week and experienced a dramatic decline in business. By the same token, several local pro-life pregnancy centers said that they experienced a significant increase in their case loads – from 50 percent to 100 percent.
The Atlanta police brouhaha may escalate into a federal “civil rights” lawsuit filed by Operation Rescue as more stories such as the case of Father Norman Weslin, who was put in solitary confinement for saying mass, are revealed. As the indignation of state and city officials, and media spokesmen are aroused, the rescuer’s cause – abortion – may become the most pivotal issue of the presidential election and the next decade.
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