"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
The Rev. Donald Spitz, spokesman for the underground anti-abortion group Army of God, says abortion providers aren’t the only ones who’ve received anthrax-threat letters that turned out to be hoaxes. Spitz says he and other abortion foes have received the hoax letters, too — but their story has been ignored by the “liberal media.” Spitz first made his claim in a letter to Salon, in response to a story that ran last week, “Are Right-wing Hate Groups Behind Anthrax Terror?” The article quoted critics of Attorney General John Ashcroft, who complained he hadn’t met with abortion providers who had received anthrax hoax letters. They worried Ashcroft might not be aggressive enough in tracking right-wing extremists who could be responsible for actual anthrax assaults because of his ties to right-wing Christian right groups. Spitz responded:
The article bemoans the fact that John Ashcroft hasn’t met with pro-abortionists because they received some bogus anthrax letters. Well he hasn’t met with anti-abortionists either. They also received bogus anthrax letters; of course these have gone unreported by a liberal media who only reports one side of the abortion issue. John Ashcroft does have an F.B.I. investigation into who sent the bogus anthrax letters to the baby killers at the abortion mills. What he should do now is give equal treatment and investigate Planned Parenthood, NARAL and NOW to see if they had a hand in sending bogus anthrax letters to anti-abortionists.
Salon called Spitz at his home in Chesapeake, Va., to talk about anthrax, abortion and his belief that clinic violence isn’t terror, but “defensive action” on behalf of innocent lives. Although his letter blamed the “liberal media” for ignoring the anthrax letter he received last week, in person Spitz admits he didn’t notify the media about it, and says a local TV station covered the story when he received one years back.
On the phone, the man behind the violence-preaching Army of God does not sound like a zealot. He is soft-spoken, almost shy, who speaks serenely and with an Elmer Fudd-like inflection. He told Salon about the recent anthrax letters he has received, the other death threats against him and why people who work in abortion clinics deserve to die.
So you’ve received anthrax hoax letters?
Yes, I have. The last one was last Monday at my post office box in Chesapeake, Va. The one before that was a couple of years ago. The abortion people were getting them, and then the anti-abortion people were getting them as well. I received one then.
Were these letters signed?
Mine wasn’t signed. They called me a name to begin with, and they said two can play this game. And there was some powder in it, at the bottom of it, so that was about it.
Did you show the letters to law enforcement?
Yes, I did. The last one, they closed down a portion of the post office when I showed it to them. Then I called 911 and fire department authorities came out and they went through their routine to test it. I haven’t got the final tests back yet, but the preliminary tests were negative.
Did this get any news coverage at all, given the current sensitivity to anthrax?
No, it didn’t. They may have not known about it, because I didn’t tell the press. I doubt the authorities told them. I don’t know why they didn’t. The previous one, one of the local TV stations came and did a short thing on it, and that was about it.
The recent round of anthrax hoax letters have been signed by Army of God. Do you have any idea who’s sending the hoax letters to abortion clinics?
The hoax ones are being sent by Clayton Waagner. He’s an anti-abortionist who has escaped from prison. He’s the one who sent them to the abortion mills; he’s come out and confessed that. I think it was over the weekend. That was it. It sounded like it was him. From what I know it sounds exactly like him. I have no doubt it was.
Is the Army of God actually a formal organization or just a loose-knit association with common beliefs about abortion?
It’s unorganized. It’s an underground organization. People act on their own because of that. There’s no membership list or anything like that. People have the same — you may say political beliefs, we would say religious beliefs. That’s about all there is to it.
Do you know of anyone who has been contacted by the FBI or other law enforcement officials simply because of their affiliation with Army of God?
I think Michael Bray has. [Bray served four years in prison for bombing abortion clinics in the 1980s.] I heard they visited him, but I don’t know. But I think it might have been because of Clayton’s escape they might have visited him. I can’t recall if it was that or the letters. I did hear about some people that were contacted, but I can’t recall who they were.
What was your sense of the law enforcement response when you reported your anthrax letters?
Well, I guess you’re in San Francisco, but Chesapeake is a lot smaller town than that. The same guy who did the first one did the second one. It’s not like there’s a lot of people like me in this little town. I guess he had the attitude of “Oh, this troublemaker again,” type of attitude. But he was professional, he did his job. I don’t know. They searched my car because I took the letter in my car to call them. I don’t know what to say. I just went through the routine. I didn’t think it was real because the real ones are being sent to politicians and to the media people. I don’t think people who are doing it are interested in someone like me. But you never know. I didn’t really think it was real, but I felt I should report it so maybe they could catch the person who did it.
I don’t think they’re investigating mine, to be honest. They sent a letter to Richmond, Va., for laboratory tests. I haven’t heard back, but I don’t think the FBI will be investigating mine.
Have there been other members of Army of God who have received anthrax hoax letters?
Yes, Neal Horsley received one. And there’s a guy Jeff White — I think he was in California but he may have moved to Las Vegas — received one. And there were other people They were in the past, in the last wave that was happening. This wave, I don’t know. I mean, you could ask them and they wouldn’t know I received one, because I haven’t told them either. We get a lot of threats, to be honest. I get threats all the time, death threats and a lot of stuff, so we just kind of blow them off. But we don’t talk to one another that much about them. I know those two definitely have received them.
Sounds like you don’t take these threats too seriously, that it doesn’t affect your daily routine too much.
I’ll be honest, that’s the truth. I’ve been a very active anti-abortionist for close to 20 years now. It’s pretty common. I get about a death threat a week on the Internet, by e-mail. Sometimes by letters or phone calls, whatever. This is a little different because, you know, the anthrax letters.
Do you know of anyone who’s affiliated with Army of God who actually has anthrax?
Oh no. No one I know does. I doubt they would use it, because they wouldn’t want to harm innocent people. Our whole purpose is to defend innocent people from being harmed. So I would doubt one would actually use anthrax, because postal workers would be getting it, and we wouldn’t want to hurt any innocent people. Our whole purpose is to defend babies from being killed.
Even with Clayton’s recent statement, he’s providing a way of escape for abortion mill workers so that he won’t kill them if they quit. Then he won’t harm them.
But he says he actually has a hit list of 42 people, right?
Yes, he does, yes. And I think he’s very serious. I know he sent bogus anthrax letters out, and he did not have anthrax, but there’s a difference between having access to guns and bombs. Every time he’s been close to being apprehended, when the authorities have caught up with him, they’ve always found guns. The last time they found a long-range rifle. They found a pipe bomb and bomb-making materials. He had a minor car crash and he had to take off before people came. In the trunk of the car, they found these things. I think he was in a hotel room in Las Vegas or some city, and they found guns there. So I think he’s very serious and he’s going to do this. He’s just waiting.
Nobody wants to kill anybody, but they feel they have to. It’s like we have to go to Afghanistan, and stop the people that would be killing us. This is the way he sees it. If they’re not stopped, then they’re going to keep killing babies, so they have to be stopped.
Do you agree that violence against abortion workers is appropriate?
We don’t call it violence. We call it defensive action. We see it as defending the innocent, as if there was a sniper in the tree in the schoolyard sniping off the children, one by one. Someone needs to stop the person. It is justified. No one would want to shoot another human being dead, but it’s necessary to stop them from killing innocent children. So it is justified.
Have you noticed any difference in the way you’ve been treated by law enforcement since the administration has changed? Was the Reno Justice Department more aggressive in targeting your members?
Oh, yeah. Janet Reno started a grand jury investigation on us — conspiracy to commit violence against abortion providers. That came to nothing, even while she was still in. It went on for a few years, and they couldn’t find any conspiracy. But John Ashcroft will lock us up as quick as Janet Reno would if they caught us doing anything.
Is there more you would like to see law enforcement do in regards to abortion clinics or the anthrax hoax letters?
Yeah, I would like to see them stop protecting the abortion mills. I don’t believe they deserve protection. The babies deserve to be protected, not the abortion mill workers. It’s the job of the government to protect the innocent and not protect those who murder the innocent, and they’re protecting the wrong people. I know it sounds crazy, I understand that, but that’s what I believe should be happening.
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)