Using the Bible to justify killing

August 08, 1994|By Loretta J. Ross

AMERICA'S LATEST terrorist threat is a volatile mixture of anti-abortionists and the racist right. To an alarming extent, the anti-abortion movement -- once known for its prayer vigils -- is gathering white-supremacist recruits and using their tools: vandalism, arson, bombs and murder. The recent abortion-clinic murders of Dr. John Britton and clinic volunteer, James Barrett, are a murderous escalation of the battle over women's rights.

Paul Hill, the fundamentalist minister in custody for the murders of Britton and Barrett -- who had admitted to the killings -- used the Bible to justify his act. In his book, "Should We Defend Born and Unborn Children With Force?" Paul Hill envisions a zealous underground that murders people for "disobeying God's laws" on abortion, homosexuality and other "crimes." His vision comes from the biblical story of Phineas, a priest who killed two sinners with a single spear thrust and became a symbol of righteous zeal. The same story guides the Phineas Priesthood, a white supremacist group that murders people for interracial mixing.

This is only part of a disturbing pattern linking anti-abortion extremists and the racist right. The neo-Nazi youth movement is visibly entering the fray, as its leaders have seized on abortion as a rallying point for the "white revolution." A Southern group known as the Confederate Hammerskins protested at a clinic in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; American Front skinheads picketed a clinic in Portland, Ore., with Operation Rescue.

Between 1991 and 1993, according to the National Abortion Federation, abortion clinics were the target of 37 bombings and arsons, 19 attempted bombings and 233 incidents of vandalism. On March 10, 1993, this wave of terror turned fatal when Michael Griffin shot and killed Dr. David Gunn outside a clinic in Pensacola, Fla. He was convicted in Gunn's murder earlier this year.

Some leaders of the anti-abortion movement attempted to portray Griffin as a "lone psycho," but the latest murders show that he is just one of a growing number of anti-abortion terrorists.

The similarities of white supremacists and the anti-abortion movement are striking: Both rely on spiritual prophecies to shape the beliefs of their followers and to exhort them to violence. They are also equally obsessed with all aspects of sex and sexuality: homosexuality, abortion, pornography, feminism and single mothers.

If nothing else, the murders of Gunn, Britton and Barrett lay to rest the notion that the anti-abortion movement is about the sanctity of life. It has always been about controlling the sexuality of women. Unable to convince women not to get abortions, the anti-abortion movement has resorted to low-intensity warfare: killing the doctors and burning the clinics.

As these extremists seek to dominate the anti-abortion movement, they soon may drive out more moderate voices. Sensitive to this potential public-image disaster, some anti-abortion leaders are trying to distance themselves from visible ties to violence and white supremacists. In Florida this week, John Burt, a former Klan member and now a leader of the extremist anti-abortion group Rescue America, denounced murder as a tactic.

Is this the truth, or just a public-relations tactic?

For women wanting abortions, it hardly matters. Incidents of abortion-clinic violence are escalating at alarming rates. In 1992 there were eight reported death threats at clinics; by November 1993, there were 65. In September 1993 a man was arrested at a Dayton, Ohio, clinic with a .22 rifle and 30 rounds of ammunition. In the past two weeks, a clinic in Falls Church, Va., suffered likely arson, while in Philadelphia a man in possession of at least five Molotov cocktails was arrested outside a clinic.

The Justice Department's decision to post federal marshals at clinics most susceptible to attack is a belated and much needed measure. But armed guards are not enough. Reasonable people divided over the issue of abortion should unite in the fight against bigotry and violence.

Loretta J. Ross is the research director of the Center for Democratic Renewal in Atlanta, which monitors neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

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