By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Like other militia-style groups, the center of the antiabortion extremist movement is nearly impossible to pinpoint. If there is one, it appears to revolve around the Army of God a name that has been linked to at least a dozen acts of violence. Some experts believe the Army of God is a loosely organized network of terrorists. Others insist it is just a handy label used by extremists to inflate the public perception of their strength. It is generally agreed, however, that the Army of God, like many militias, does not have a hierarchy, headquarters, or membership list.
This makes them tough to identify, much less to defeat. "It's harder to fight criminals than it is to fight protesters in the streets," says Susan Dudley, deputy director of the National Abortion Federation.
The Army of God surfaced in the media earlier this year after a bomb blast at a Birmingham, Alabama, clinic killed security guard Robert Sanderson and severely injured nurse Emily Lyons. Reuters and The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionreceived handwritten letters claiming responsibility, which were signed by the Army of God. In 1997, media outlets received similarly signed letters following the bombings of an abortion clinic and gay nightclub in Atlanta.
The FBI has named Eric Robert Rudolph, a 31-year-old carpenter, as a suspect in all three bombings as well as the 1996 bombing at Centennial Park during the Olympics. For months, federal agents have been hunting for Rudolph in the woods of western North Carolina, where he is believed to be hiding. The best example of the merger between militias and antiabortion extremists may be Rudolph himself, who has been linked to the Christian Identity movement, which is anti-black, anti-gay, anti-Semitic, and antiabortion. Now that the FBI has accused Rudolph of bombing several different sites, it has become apparent that the targets of antiabortion zealots include far more than clinics.
"These folks are not single-issue," says Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which monitors antiabortion violence. "One minute, they're screaming and carrying on about the evils of abortion. The next minute it's homosexuality, and the third minute it could be the federal government. Abortion is their training ground for the creation of domestic terrorism."
Building An Army?
It is nearly impossible to track the history of the Army of God, but experts believe it starts with a former real estate investor from Texas named Don Benny Anderson. Anderson is believed to be the first person to use the Army of God moniker. In 1982, he kidnapped an Illinois abortion doctor and his wife with the help of two accomplices. Anderson, then 42, held the couple at gunpoint for eight days inside an ammunition bunker. At the time, Anderson claimed to be the leader of the Army of God.
This kidnapping marked one of the first times an antiabortion activist had attacked a doctor rather than a clinic. Eventually, Anderson released his hostages unharmed. Now he is serving a 42-year sentence in federal prison for the kidnapping as well as for torching two Florida clinics and lobbing a pipe bomb at a Virginia clinic. Experts believe Anderson's "army" consisted only of himself and his two coconspirators.
Over the next several years, various other extremists embraced the Army of God name. In 1983, Joseph Grace, a 34-year-old house painter, told authorities that he was an Army of God member after he burned down a Virginia clinic. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the 1973 Roev. Wadedecision legalizing abortion, received a threatening letter signed by the Army of God in 1984. And when John Brockhoeft, a 37-year-old postal worker, was accused of firebombing two Ohio clinics in 1985, he claimed to be a colonel in the Army of God.
Before Bray became a national spokesperson for what he calls "justifiable homicide," he too claimed an Army of God affiliation. Bray spent four years in prison in connection with 10 bombings in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, D.C., during the mid 1980s. At one of the bombed-out clinics, investigators found a plank with "AOG" written on it. (Asked in a recent interview whether he still considers himself part of the Army of God, Bray said, "If I were conspiring with the Army of God, I couldn't tell you.")
Recent letters sent to the media and signed by the Army of God include threats of future violence. While it is unclear how serious such threats are, one letter warned that the East Coast would be the next target. It stated: "WE DECLARE AND WILL WAGE TOTAL WAR ON THE UNGODLY COMMUNIST REGIME IN NEW YORK AND YOUR LEGASLATIVE [sic]-BUREAUCRATIC LACKEY'S [sic] IN WASHINGTON."
Recipes For Bombs
In 1993, Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, a 37-year-old housewife, shot abortion doctor George Tiller in both arms outside his clinic in Wichita, Kansas. Until then, law enforcement officials thought the Army of God was little more than a catchy phrase. When they began digging in Shannon's backyard, however, they discovered something new: the AOG manual a prescription for violence that describes some of the group's accomplishments.
This 136-page document outlines dozens of strategies for harassing clinic employees and patients. Recommended tactics include squirting superglue in a clinic's door locks, drilling holes in the roof to create leaks, injecting acid into bathroom walls, shoving Nerf soccer balls and concrete into sewer drains, dumping cow manure outside the entrance, and spray-painting slogans like "Mommy, Don't Kill Me" on the clinic's exterior.