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This paper presents an overview of anti–abortion extremism online, focusing on the ‘Army of God’ Web site that supports the use of violence to criminalise abortion. Also discussed are some of the dominant figures in this movement and their online presence. The use of the Internet by movements of this nature highlights its function as a powerful propaganda tool that can be used to encourage support for and action in the name of the anti–abortion extremist movement.
The Army of God
Individual activists and activities
Online activism and violent activity: A connection?
While an international body of anti–abortionist extremists exist, violent activities have predominantly remained limited to the United States, where in 1973 the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Roe v. Wade that constitutional rights apply only after birth; thus abortion does not breach a person’s right to life. Anti–abortion extremism is defined here as violent activity (including vandalism, bombings, arson and murder) orchestrated in support of the criminalisation of abortion. The Internet has become a popular tool in supporting and promoting the ideologies that justify and validate the use of violence to support extremist anti–abortion movements.
Cursory Internet searches indicate that there are a large number of anti–abortion Web sites online. Those that are extreme in nature can be quickly identified by discourses created within that support the use of violent activity to achieve the goals of the movement. This paper presents a review of the ‘Army of God’ site and considers some of the key figures in the anti–abortion extremist movement, both of which are used as powerful propaganda tools to encourage support and action from Internet users.
The Army of God
The anti–abortion extremist movement ‘Army of God’ (http://www.armyofgod.com) is one of the primary proponents of the use of violence to support the criminalisation of abortion in the United States. This is a movement that uses ‘leaderless resistance’  as its organising principle. The ‘Army of God’ is represented by a sophisticated Web site that opens with an array of shocking images, mainly detailed and graphic pictures of aborted foetuses. Such images have a high potential impact on viewers and serve the purposes of the movement in a number of ways. Firstly they shock those who may be pro–choice supporters or particularly those who are ‘on the fence’ in relation to this issue; they have a high propaganda value. Additionally, these images can be downloaded and printed to be used in protests or as flyers for distribution by supporters who are willing to become involved in such activities. Along with these highly graphic images are quotes from the Bible, for example: “Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils / And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters. (Psalm 106:37,38)”. There is an option to “click here: to view babies murdered by baby killing abortionists” which links to a page where there is an option to view the images of 15 aborted foetuses. Pro–life videos are also available to download and to purchase. Such graphic images function powerfully as part of the propaganda campaign of the movement.
This Web site also features a tribute to Paul Hill, described on the site as a “hero” of the anti–abortion movement. There is an internal Web link to “The Authorized Paul Hill website” and a message board feature where individuals can post their support for this “hero”. Another internal link provides access to a full online copy of Hill’s book, “Mix my blood with the blood of the unborn”, which was written while Hill was in prison. This inclusion of this material serves to praise the ‘martyrs’ and ‘heroes’ of the movement and can be used to encourage others to take action.
There are also internal links to the Web sites of other activists involved and incarcerated or killed for the anti–abortion movement including, Shelley Shannon, Kopp, and Waagner; also included is information on “Anti–abortion heroes of the Faith”, with links to many more activists and vocal proponents of the anti–abortion movement. All of this information constitutes a clever propaganda campaign of the group with the aim of encouraging others to take action by highlighting and praising the successful violent activities of others.
Another section of the site dedicated to prisoners’ letters, with a call to write to anti–abortion prisoners “for saving the lives of unborn babies”. To write to a prisoner is made simple on this site with an e–mail facility and an option of including a postal address if a reply is desired. Another means of involvement directly advocated on the site is to “send a baby murdered by abortion postcard to your politician, newspaper reporter, friend, enemy or anyone you want”, this facility includes an e–mail option and provides a number of ready–made messages which can be used on the e–mail postcard.
The Army of God manual is also posted on the site in full. It is presented as a “historical document” and in a statement preceding the document itself it is maintained that this document should “not be construed as sanctioning any group or individual to perform any action”. The manual itself is dedicated to God and the activists and prisoners of the Army of God. The first paragraph outlines the purpose of the manual “This is a manual for those who have come to understand that the battle against abortion is a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the devil and all the evil he can muster among flesh and blood to fight at his side … . It is a How–To Manual of means to disrupt and ultimately destroy Satan’s power to kill our children, God’s children”. Throughout the manual the beliefs and work of the anti–abortionists are framed within a rhetoric of righteousness, in the belief that action in defence of the unborn is the duty of those who believe in God. Also the abortion “industry” is compared, throughout the manual, with the Holocaust. Such rhetoric creates within itself (and for supporters who read it) the justifications and legitimations necessary to pursue violent activity. The manual goes on to outline “99 Covert Ways to Stop Abortion”; this list of suggestions is vast. It includes suggestions such as: super–gluing door locks, hate mail, and various types of property damage for example using tar, the use of butyric acid and arson, cutting off telephones and hampering electricity and water supply to the clinics. Also included are notes on how to avoid apprehension such as being careful about fingerprints, how to react to police interrogations.
The final paragraph of the manual states:
|“Our most dread sovereign Lord God requires that whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed. Not out of hatred for you, but out of love for the persons you exterminate, we are forced to take arms against you. Our life for yours — a simple equation. Dreadful. Sad. Reality, nonetheless. You shall not be tortured at our hands. Vengeance belongs to God only. However execution is rarely gentle.”|
Clearly this manual is a ‘How–To’ in extreme activism. It is representative of the Army of God and their ideology and outlines many ways for the activist to pursue activities against abortion clinics and their workers.
Similarly a paper defending the Nuremberg Files  and the use of violence in the anti–abortion movement can be found on this site. A statement on the site defends the Nuremberg Files and maintains: “It is clear the Nuremberg Files website poses no actual threat to babykilling abortionists. This accusation is just a ploy to silence all opposition to babykilling abortionists … . If someone is actually interested in shooting a babykilling abortionist dead; information regarding names and locations of those who murder helpless children is readily available through the pro–abort website, ‘Abortion Clinics online’ as well as the yellow pages or telephone books”.
Information can also be found in relation to how best to react to law enforcement at public demonstrations, this type of information is particularly interesting as it attempts to educate the user on how to avoid self–incrimination (at the very least) when talking with police or FBI.
Individual activists and activities
Anti–abortion extremism is most commonly represented by “lone wolf” activism, a type of single cell or individual extremism made popular by William Pierce (1989), (writing under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald), in his book Hunter. “Lone Wolf” extremists often act independently, without direct affiliation with known or recognised extremist anti–abortion groups, although they may consider themselves to be part of a broader ‘movement’ of anti–abortion extremists who are working independently toward the same end goal. These “lone wolfs” often become ‘martyred’ and mythologised within the movement for their activities.
Paul Hill is one such figure, revered by his proponents, with Web space on the Army of God site, dedicated to his violent legacy. Hill was arrested in 1994 for the murders of Dr. John Britton and his bodyguard James Barrett. Hill was a virulent and outspoken anti–abortionist; he was also an advocate of ‘defensive action’, which he used as a justification for the right to use violence against those who worked in abortion clinics. He believed in the right to commit murder in order to prevent the future murders of unborn children. Hill was a prolific writer on such issues; his writings include: ‘Why shoot an abortionist’, ‘I shot an abortionist’, and ‘Mix my blood with the blood of the unborn’, a book he wrote in prison. In his writings justifying why he shot an abortionist (‘Defending the defenceless’, August 2003 reprint), Hill recounts his introduction to the anti–abortion movement, his progression through the movement over time and his choice to use violence to achieve his goal of ‘bringing an abortion doctor to justice’ and in so doing preventing the murder of unborn children. Analyses of his writings indicate that much of his belief in the righteousness of his actions comes from his firm belief that these actions are condoned, if not expected, by God. Hill claims that it was his Christian duty to protect the unborn by whatever means necessary:
|“I was not standing for my own ideas, but God’s truths — the same truths that have stopped bloodbaths and similar atrocities throughout history. Who was to stand in God’s way? He now held the door open and promised great blessing for obedience. Was I not to step through it? … ‘I didn’t have any choice!’ — That cry came from the depths of my soul. I was certain, and still am, that God called me to obey His revealed will at that particular time.” |
Even in recounting the particular events, which lead to his decision to shoot and kill Dr. Britton, he recounts daily events which he took as signs from God that his decision to commit this act was right. He recounts ‘agonizing’ over the decision of what this act would mean for his wife and children, that he would be parted from them as a consequence of this decision, however he decided that although “the separation would be painful, the reward would be great, too great to fathom; it was simply accepted in faith.”
Hill surrendered to the police at the scene of the murders and considered his actions a success; he had prevented the killing of unborn children in the clinic that day. Throughout his writings Hill continually referred to scripture and gospel in defence of his right to protect the unborn and to do so through the use of violence. Hill was executed in September 2003 and his death at the hands of the state has served to further cement his martyr status, particularly online where the Army of God Web site names him an ‘American hero’ and provides links to many of his written works.
Another so called ‘true American hero’, according to the Posse Comitatus Web site (a white supremacy site), is Eric Rudolph, whose arrest in, May 2003 on suspicion of serial bombing, including abortion clinic targets, brought to an end a five–year manhunt for one of the FBI’s most wanted fugitives. Rudolph, a “lone wolf” extremist was believed to be a Christian Identity believer and White Supremacist with connections to the Army of God anti–abortionist movement (Schuster, 2003). In July 2005 Rudolph received a life sentence.
In an interesting case of anti–abortion extremism, James Kopp was convicted in 2003 for the second degree murder of New Year abortion clinic doctor, Dr. Slepian in 1998, receiving a sentence of 25 years to life. Slepian was shot in his kitchen by a sniper who waited in the woods behind the house. Kopp did not receive a jury trial which proponents claim as an example of blatant injustice as Kopp was not permitted to present a justification defence based on the ‘defence of others’, with ‘others’ in this case referring to the unborn children. Kopp admitted to killing Dr. Slepian and in a statement made at his sentencing Kopp attempted to justify the murder as an act of protection for the unborn and a duty ruled by God:
|“He (Slepian) had received a warning just the day before and he decided to ignore it. Many pro–lifers over many years begged him to stop. Doctors had been shot at for six years before 1998. Quote: the moral law of God does not equivocally condemn the sue of force to stop persons who seek to harm innocent life. The use of violence to protect human life from attack is not intrinsically immoral. Those who take up arms against abortionists cannot be simply condemned. Nor are they quilty of murder, end quote. This was done by Bishop Vaughn, V–A–U–G–H–N, Bishop of New York, Former Rector, New York Seminar.” (Taken from court transcripts)|
In fact Kopp claims that although he intended to injure Slepian so that he would be unable to continue his work as an abortion doctor, he did not intend to kill him:
|“I was innocent of murder then. I am innocent of murder now. I did not intentionally kill Dr. Slepian, and any proportionate force used to try to restrain him, as I have shown from St. Thomas Aquinas to Bishop B. Vaughn, is justified to save children from imminent danger.” (Taken from court transcripts)|
Female advocates of anti–abortion extremism also exist as illustrated in the case of Shelley Shannon. Shannon initially became involved in the anti–abortion movement as a peaceful activist working with Operation Rescue during the 1980s, however by the early 1990s Shannon’s commitment and involvement within the movement had evolved with her views becoming more radical and her involvement in violent activities escalating. Shannon became involved in attacks against abortion clinics using arson and Butyric acid, a colourless, extremely vile smelling liquid which could be used to cause harm but which was mainly used to destroy property with its indelible odour. Shannon admits to being influenced by other activists within the anti–abortion movement particularly those incarcerated for their activities. Shannon regularly corresponded with these activists, who were incarcerated, and in one letter from the activist Marjorie Reed, Shannon found particular inspiration to take her actions to another level:
|“If you are going to get a year for just blocking the doors, you might as well use much more drastic measures … . It is going to get a whole lot worse. Blood will be shed, not just the babies blood either.” (Reproduced from Bower, 1996)|
Over time Shannon carried out a number of successful arson and acid attacks on abortion clinics and became a member of the ‘Army of God’. Using the pen name ‘Shaggy West’ Shannon regularly contributed opinion articles to the organisation and other anti–abortion publications such as Life Advocate in which a letter from Shannon was published in 1993 stating:
|“I’m sure the bombers are acting in the will of God, and doubt they would or should stop if a guilty bystander or innocent person is hurt. If they don’t act, a lot of people will be killed. Lets pray no one gets hurt, but this is a war and we have to be realistic.” (Reproduced from Bower, 1996)|
Shannon, in much of her writings, justifies and legitimates her decision to use violence as guided by God. Her membership in the Army of God movement and her belief that war against abortion must be waged (as it is mandated by God) allowed her to justify the acts of violence she involved herself in and her own belief in the righteousness of doing so. In August 1993 Shannon was arrested for the attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller and a woman in his company. Tiller remains a particularly hated figure by anti–abortion extremists, as he was known to perform late–term abortions; his nickname is ‘Tiller the Killer’. Shannon was sentenced to 11 years for attempted murder; in prison letters to her daughter Shannon is clearly unremorseful for her actions:
|“I’m not denying I shot Tiller. But I deny that it was wrong. It was the most holy, most righteous thing I’ve every done. I have no regrets. I hope he is not killing babies today. If he is, at least I tried.” (Reproduced from Bower, 1996)|
Shannon was later convicted for her prior attacks on abortion clinics and was sentenced to added time in prison, in total she is expected to be incarcerated for a period of 30 years for her crimes.
Online activism and violent activity: A connection?
Neal Horsley is a leading anti–abortion Webmaster and voice of the extreme Christian right (Southern Poverty Law [SPL] Center, 2005), facilitating a potential connection between the online and off–line aspects of the extreme anti–abortion movement. According to an intelligence report by the SPL Center, Horsley “has become the most public face of anti-abortion extremism in America” (SPL Center Report, 2005), particularly in light of his notorious Web site which propelled him into the spotlight by providing addresses and detailed information of abortion providers; information which is believed be some to be directly linked to the murder of Dr. Slepian, in 1998.
Horsley’s first Web site, www.chrisitangallery.com, appeared online in 1995 and carries his writings on a number of subjects from homosexuality to tirades against abortion. Information on his site also provided the names, addresses and telephone numbers of abortion providers. The “Nuremberg Files” refers to abortion clinic staff as murderers committing genocide on the unborn of the United States. Despite Horsley’s claims that he is not publicising a hit list of abortion providers he cannot be unaware of the potential effects of publishing and distributing such information. Despite his involvement in the development and dissemination of the Nuremberg Files, which were subsequently linked to death of Dr. Slepian, whose personal information had been listed, Horsley was never brought to face a charge on this matter. However he was ordered to remove the offending information from his site, only for this decision to be overturned in 2001 under the First Amendment. In this appeal case the information provided on Horsley’s site was deemed not to be directly inciting violent activities. The Nuremberg Files page currently exists on the Christian Gallery site, however at the outset of this research it did not and instead an active link connected to a page where the following statement could be found:
|“The Web Sites Above Have Been Censored. The List of Abortionists On This Web Site and the Live Cameras Posted Outside butchertoriums across the Nation Have Been Removed By the Federal Government of the USA Because It Deterred People From Aborting Unborn Babies, Thereby Depriving Satan of the Daily Allotment of Dead Babies Committed to Him by the Federal Government. Your Continuing Support of the Federal Government Made This Possible.” (http://www.christiangallery.com)|
Versions of the Nuremberg Files continue to exist in cyberspace although the information they provide may be incorrect, or as one site suggests, purposely changed so that attacks may be on affiliates rather than enemies, “For the Nuremberg supporters who intend to use this page for their own means, I have this to say … you can never be sure that I haven’t amended the page. Do not trust the manes and addresses you find here, and do not use violence against the people listed here. You may end up shooting your own affiliates.” (http://www.xs4all.nl/~oracle/nuremberg/aborts.html)
Horsley also includes on the site a number of articles, personal accounts and opinion pieces of his own. In one such personal account titled “PayPal seizes contents of my online account”, Horsley (2003) discusses the fact that his account was seized and impounded for a period no less than six months because, according to PayPal. Horsley runs “an ultra violent anti–abortion website that advocated the murder of abortion doctors”. Horsley (2003) claims he has never advocated the killing of abortion doctors (at least not explicitly) and goes on to claim that he is being victimised because of his anti–abortion beliefs but “I persist because in spite of every fear that my flesh, the world, and the devil conjures up, I know that God knows I’ve made all of these enemies simply because I am telling the hard truth about what it means to live in a nation that has legalized the slaughter of the least of God’s children, the ones the Lord Jesus has identified with.”
Horsley, like so many anti–abortion extremists, justifies and legitimates his beliefs and actions through an ideology that maintains his own righteousness, presuming that such action and activity is the will of God.
Horsley has also established an Internet service provider for the abortion abolition movement. By setting up an ISP of his own, Horsley can avoid the problems of being shut down by an independent ISP who may not agree with his views. Similarly he can provide this service to other anti–abortion organisations or individuals who seek to set up Web sites, etc. and make some money in the process.
In a statement made on the ISP sign up site Horsley writes:
|“The We Choose Life Network is first and foremost the primary real–time political organizing machine of the Abortion Abolition Movement. God, in his Providence, has seen fit to bring the Internet to life. It is through the Internet that the We Choose Life Network will forge political organization with the power to force the majority to implement the goal of the Abortion Abolition Movement.”|
In the following statement Horsley also writes about the advantages of creating an online community in support of the anti–abortion movement, clearly recognising the potential value of virtual communities and the Internet in terms of communication within the movement, of organising and of creating a discourse of support for the anti–abortion movement which may in turn bring the issue back into the public domain:
|“The concept of ‘virtual’ is central to the Internet. Virtual in Internet terms is a word that describes the Internet’s ability to create new forms of things that already exist in other forms in the world outside the Internet. For instance, the Internet can be used to create a ‘virtual’ community that has many, if not most of the characteristics of the communities we grew up in, the communities we presently live in. Because of the unique communication and interactive capabilities of the Internet, we can be transported from our actual communities and find ourselves members of a completely different ‘virtual’ community where we can live and interact and find the fellowship and support resources found in other communities … . Where before we were isolated islands of resistance, ignored and in many cases ostracized within our local communities, within the We Choose Life Network, the We Choose Life Community, we become powerful agents for change, vital members of a community composed of many people, rich with talent, resources and determination — determination to arrest legalized abortion within this generation … . We have one goal, one agenda and one program: abolish legalized abortion in the USA.”|
Horsley continues to develop with Internet innovations and in 2001 launched a Web site www.abortioncams.com. This site broadcasts Web site photos and video footage of women entering abortion clinics — a virtual or online naming and shaming of the “murderers”. He has also continued his association with violent activists within the movement, such as Waagner, a fugitive on the FBI 10 most wanted list appeared at Horsley’s home in 2001. Waagner was wanted in connection with Anthrax threats made in 2001 against abortion clinics. He was arrested just a few weeks after he had visited Horsley (SPL Center, 2005).
Horsley remains an important figure in the anti–abortion movement and his Web site, www.christiangallery.com remains online. Horsley is a prime example of an activist walking the fine line between legal and illegal activism, although he does not outwardly advocate the use of terrorism or violence to achieve the goals of the anti–abortionist movement neither does he decry such actions nor consider his role, in providing the information and perhaps even impetus for others to act, as problematic.
The content and networked nature of anti–abortion extremist sites indicates that while few organisations exist with active membership, the “lone wolf” philosophy has embedded itself within the anti–abortion extremism ideology, as evidenced by the prominent figures within this movement who have been ‘mythologised’, even elevated to a ‘martyred’ status, on Web sites in support of their anti–abortion activities, which have included sabotage, destruction of property and murder. All of the sites considered in this case study are based in the United States and refer to American cases. While anti–abortion extremism is not a uniquely American problem it appears that European counterparts have been slower to take up Internet use as a tool in their cause. In relation to the Web sites discussed here, it is the content and nature of these and their contribution to the creation of a cyberplace in support of “lone wolf” extremist activities, that warrants further investigation and monitoring. Similarly the proliferation of the notion that these extreme activities are in the name of ‘God’, assumes that righteousness is on the side of the ‘extremist’; attributions of blame therefore can be transferred to the transgressor, or abortion provider, who is framed as the evil murdering enemy of unborn children. Such rhetoric and propaganda is used to persuade the potential supporter of the righteousness of the cause at hand and the justification to use any means necessary, including violence and extreme behaviour, to achieve the goals of the movement. This and other similar networks of support for violent and extremist activity are important to investigate because they can be used to more comprehensively understand the nature of the belief system of the extremist. They provide an insight into the ideology of the movement, how they justify their own activities and how they delegitimise their enemies. Similarly the information provided on these sites in relation to activities carried out, and advice given to other potential activists can be used effectively as intelligence against the movements.
Extremist movements are using the Internet in a variety of ways. They have been quick to realise the potential of this means of communication and are using it effectively to advertise themselves, tell their stories and communicate with a wider audience than ever before. The Internet provides a safe, easy and cheap means of disseminating propaganda, gathering intelligence, promoting support and demonising the enemy. From the perspective of the supporter the Internet serves the important function of allowing the individual to maintain a link with the group, to learn about their ideology and goals and to find out how they might become more involved with the group either online or in a more active capacity.
Web sites of the nature described here are sophisticated not only in relation to the technology they use and the services they provide but also in terms of their functions and the psychological and behavioural processes they support. Firstly these sites facilitate the propaganda strategy of the movement, providing a forum for the communication and dissemination of information relating to the many aspects of the movement, ranging from their engagement in violent activities to the ideological statements used to justify their position, goals and tactics. The sites also function in various subtle ways to draw people, particularly supporters and potential supporters, further into the movement. This is actively achieved through the forum the site provides and the requests made to supporters to become further involved in support activities both online and off–line, such as organising petitions and letter writing campaigns, setting up their own Web sites, etc. These ways of demonstrating support are potential ‘pathways’ toward becoming more involved in terrorist support activities both online and off.
Internet–based research provides access to previously closed communities of terrorist supporters, which have become accessible online. Such research is important for the investigation of the processes of individual and group support and involvement both online and the application of these processes off–line. Research relating to terrorist use of the Internet allows for the investigation and assessment of the propaganda campaigns of extremist movements, providing a unique insight into how these campaigns work to promote support and provide justifications for violent activities. It is an area warranting full and further research, particularly in terms of what such research might contribute to our understanding of the nature of involvement in such movements.
About the author
Dr. Lorraine Bowman–Grieve is Lecturer in Forensic Psychology in the Psychology Department at Leeds Trinity University College, Leeds, U.K.
E–mail: l [dot] bowman-grieve [at] leedstrinity [dot] ac [dot] uk
1. Leaderless resistance, as propagated by Louis Beam, refers to the encouragement of individual, autonomous activity (as opposed to the hierarchical structure of traditional terrorist movements).
2. The “Nuremberg Files” referred to the doctors and abortion clinic workers as murderers committing genocide on the unborn of the United States.
3. Hill, 2003, p. 6.
4. Hill, 2003, p. 5.
A. Bower, 1996. “Soldier in the Army of God,” at http://www.monitor.net/monitor/abortion/abortionsoldier.html, accessed 20 August 2007.
N. Horsley, 2003. “Abortion cams work,” Christian News Gallery Service (19 June), at http://www.christiangallery.com/abortioncamsworks.html, accessed 17 January 2005.
H. Schuster, 2003. “FBI: Olympic bombing suspect arrested,” CNN (31 May), at http://www.cnn.com/2003/us/05/31/rudolph.arrest/, accessed 25 January 2005.
Southern Poverty Law Center, 2005. “The propagandist,” at http://www.aplcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?aid=136, accessed 1 February 2004.
Paper received 14 September 2009, accepted 10 October 2009.
“Anti–abortion extremism online” by Lorraine Bowman–Grieve is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–Non–Commercial–No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Anti-abortion extremism online
by Lorraine Bowman–Grieve.
First Monday, Volume 14, Number 11 - 2 November 2009