An AP story in Montana’s Billings Gazette June 1 notes that Scott Roeder—the suspect in the slaying of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, gunned down while serving as an usher during Sunday services at his Lutheran Church in Wichita, Kansas—was a member of the radical right group the Montana Freemen, who gained fame for their long stand-off with law enforcement in the mid ’90s. It also notes the two-faced stance of the “legitimate” anti-choice movement in their supposed disavowal of the slaying:
Operation Rescue condemned the killing as vigilantism and “a cowardly act,” and the group’s president, Troy Newman, said Roeder “has never been a member, contributor or volunteer.” He may have posted to the organization’s open Internet blog, Newman said, but so have thousands of nonmembers.
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, whose protests have often targeted Tiller, called the slain doctor “a mass murderer,” adding: “He was an evil man — his hands were covered with blood.”
In 1996, a 38-year-old man named Scott Roeder was charged in Topeka with criminal use of explosives for having bomb components in his car trunk and sentenced to 2 years of probation. However, his conviction was overturned on appeal the next year after a higher court said evidence against Roeder was seized by law enforcement officers during an illegal search of his car.
At the time, police said the FBI had identified Roeder as a member of the anti-government Freemen group, an organization that kept the FBI at bay in Jordan, Montana, for almost three months in 1995-96. Authorities would not immediately confirm if their suspect was the same man.
Morris Wilson, a commander of the Kansas Unorganized Citizens Militia in the mid-1990s, told The Kansas City Star he knew Roeder fairly well.
“I’d say he’s a good ol’ boy, except he was just so fanatic about abortion,” Wilson said. “He was always talking about how awful abortion was. But there’s a lot of people who think abortion is awful.”
As the mainstream anti-abortion movement attempts to distance itself from its most extreme supporters following the shooting of Dr George Tiller in Kansas, attention is again focusing on its role in creating a climate in which the killers come to believe they murder for the good of society.
Over the past 15 years, at least nine people have been killed, including five doctors, in the crusade against abortion. Attackers have blown up clinics and attacked women seeking terminations. They have gone to prison, and even the execution chamber, calling on others to kill and maim on behalf of the “pro-life” cause. Some have been linked to the Lambs of Christ and the Army of God, Christian groups which advocate violence. But even mainstream organisations, such as Operation Save America, have resorted to extreme tactics including distributing “wanted” posters for a doctor who was later murdered.
All of this takes place against a backdrop of vilification on mainstream television and radio that helps make doctors such as Tiller a target. The popular Fox News talk show host, Bill O’Reilly, regularly called him “Tiller the Killer” and described his clinic as a “death-mill”.
“This man is executing babies about to be born,” O’Reilly said on one show. “This is the kind of stuff that happened in Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union,” he said on another. O’Reilly also warned that Tiller will face “judgement day”.
Tiller had been a target before, of Rachelle Shannon, a Christian anti-abortionist, who was convicted of attempted murder for shooting him in both arms in 1993. At her trial she said that there was nothing immoral about trying to kill him.
“I’m concerned about innocent, helpless babies being killed by other people who won’t stop unless somebody stops them,” she said. “If somebody kills George Tiller, I would not assume they did the wrong thing.”
That sentiment is shared by other killers and would-be assassins among anti-abortionists. Paul Hill, a defrocked clergyman, who became the first person executed for murdering an abortion doctor after he shot dead John Britton outside a Florida clinic and also killed a worker who protected patients from protesters, was unapologetic to the end. His last words before his execution in 2003 were to tell other anti-abortionists to “do what you have to do to stop it”. He was backed by the Army of God.
The Lambs of Christ supported James Kopp who, in 1998, used a high velocity sniper’s rifle to stalk Barnett Slepian, a New York abortionist, and shoot him dead in his own kitchen. Kopp was known as “atomic dog” among anti-abortion activists for his aggressive attitude. Although both groups operate underground they receive significant support via the internet.
The most prominent anti-abortion groups have used less vitriolic tactics but their impact is no less powerful. Operation Save America issued “wanted posters” for David Gunn, a Florida abortion doctor, in the summer of 1992. A year later he was shot dead – the first of a string of murders unlikely to end with Tiller.
Immediately after the slaying of Tiller, a blogger on Daily Kos noted the probably not coincidental coincidence of the day the killer chose to act:
Today marks the sixth anniversary of the capture of Eric Rudolph, a “pro-life” terrorist who demonstrated his opposition to a legal medical procedure by bombing clinics in Sandy Springs, Georgia, in 1997, and Birmingham, Alabama, in 1998. His bombs were packed with nails — a sure sign that his goal was not only to destroy the clinics, but to murder anyone inside. And he succeeded in murdering a security guard, Robert Sanderson, and critically injuring a nurse, Emily Lyons, in the Alabama bombing.