A day to remember?

Police and federal agents brace for violence as anti-abortion forces celebrate 'Remembrance Day.'

By Jeff Stein
Published November 11, 1998 8:00PM (EST)

Federal and local police are bracing for a spike in anti-abortion rhetoric and threats on Veterans Day, two days after the Justice Department announced it was forming a task force to combat a surge in "right-to-life" terror.

Nov. 11, observed as "Remembrance Day" in Canada, has in recent years been embraced by anti-abortion forces to commemorate "the unborn." Three times since 1994, right around Nov. 11, snipers have fired into the homes of doctors who provide abortions in Canada. A U.S. federal agent said security precautions have been taken around Atlanta and other Southern cities as the hunt for two assassins linked to anti-abortion killings intensified in New York and North Carolina. Federal officials are also investigating a recent rash of letters said to contain anthrax that have been mailed to schools, churches and abortion clinics in seven states.

"Tomorrow's a big one in Canada, but it's used here south of the border to remember not only the fallen (in war), but those who have fallen among the unborn," said a senior federal agent in Atlanta.

"It's become something of a focal point, not so much for violence -- I'm not so sure how well some of these people can read a calendar -- but for a ratcheting up of the rhetoric. Then we begin to see more threats being called into clinics."

Police are beefing up patrols and federal agencies are on heightened alert for any violence, the official said. "We tend to ratchet up, too. You may be demonstrating in a clinic every day," he added, "but on Nov. 11 you'll notice a patrol car coming by every 15 minutes. That's a significant deterrence."

Meanwhile, a federal task force on anti-abortion terror unveiled by Attorney General Janet Reno Tuesday said investigators so far have found no evidence of a conspiracy to attack clinics and doctors. Much of the anti-abortion violence has been claimed by the so-called Army of God, the nom de guerre taken by anti-abortion killers, but the "Army" is no more than a name anyone can claim, says a senior federal agent.

Which has presented law enforcement with a problem over the past 20 years of anti-abortion mayhem: There was nobody the FBI could arrest and squeeze to turn on the others. "If we'd found a conspiracy, we would have crushed it," the agent said. "The Army of God is whatever people who choose to wear that T-shirt say it is."

Yet the Army of God has published an underground manual for anti-abortion violence. Among those the manual was dedicated to was "Atomic Dog," the nickname for James Kopp, who is being sought in connection with the Oct. 23 assassination of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian in Amherst, N.Y. Kopp has a long history of anti-abortion protests associated with the group Operation Rescue.

The shot that killed Slepian as he stood in his kitchen at home passed through double window panes, an accomplishment normally associated with a military-trained sniper. But the U.S. military records center in St. Louis said it had no records on Kopp.

The Army of God has claimed responsibility for at least four bombings in the South over the last three years, according to federal officials and private analysts. Three were in Atlanta in 1996: the Olympic park bombing, an explosion at a lesbian bar and an abortion clinic bombing that killed a policeman. Last Jan. 29 an off-duty policeman employed as a security guard at a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic was killed by a remote-controlled bomb, which also gravely injured a nurse.

Federal officials say all four were the work of a North Carolina man, Eric Rudolph, 32, who has been indicted in those bombings and is the object of a massive manhunt in the forests of western North Carolina.

Rudolph learned to make bombs while assigned to the 327th Infantry Air Assault Regiment at Fort Campbell, Ky., where his "gung-ho former Green Beret commander" taught him how to make explosives with objects discarded around the base, a federal official involved in the case said.

One of the three Atlanta bombings Rudolph allegedly carried out that was claimed by the Army of God, he said, "employed high explosives in a military ammunition can."

While there may be no firm evidence of a "conspiracy" among the nation's violent anti-abortion extremists, analysts have noted a repeated association between suspects like Rudolph and an extremist religious group called Christian Identity, which in turn is said to sponsor independently operating underground cells called the "Phineas Priesthood."

Christian Identity, which has Web sites on the Internet, believes that white Northern Europeans are the true Israelites and all other races are "mud people." In 1985, Rudolph's mother took Eric and one of his brothers to a Christian Identity commune in Schell City, Mo. She arrived at the Church of Israel in an old car with balding tires, "in a desperate, destitute situation," according to Pastor Dan Gayman, who helped the family get on its feet.

Gayman has since distanced himself publicly from the Christian Identity movement, but at the time the commune was a beehive of white supremacist militancy, with the pastor proclaiming that "the Jews are the devil's seed and the children of the anti-Christ." The boys were enrolled in religious studies and Eric immersed himself in the commune's book list, from Oswald Spengler to "Holocaust: The Hoax of the 20th Century." When he returned to North Carolina he was full of anti-government, anti-Semitic and racial rhetoric, according to those who knew him.

A federal agent who has studied the Army of God said its manual for anti-abortion violence "started out as a public relations ploy -- 'look how big and bad we are' -- and it got passed around to be used." No one has been identified as its author.

A reliable source inside the extremist movement, meanwhile, said the Phineas Priesthood "was real, for sure," and has "learned lessons from Oklahoma City, which was to go underground and stay underground."

Federal officials believe violent extremists are as likely to target police and federal agents as abortion clinics and doctors as the battle intensifies. Some agents expressed frustration with the time and money the government has had to put into the anti-abortion threat. Asked how much had been spent on the Rudolph case alone, which has employed hundreds of agents, an official declined to give a figure but said: "Well, it's under Mr. Starr's $40 million."

Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the coauthor, with Khidhir Hamza, of "Saddam's Bombmaker: The Daring Escape of the Man Who Built Iraq's Secret Weapon." He writes frequently for Salon on national security issues from Washington.

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