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the Body Politic
Vol. 6, No. 2 - February 1996, Page 25
Copyright © 1996, 1997 by the Body Politic Inc.
Shelley Shannon: A Soldier in The Army of God - Part II
by Anne Bower
In part I we began a review of the diaries and letters of attempted murderer and arsonist, Shelley Shannon. Ms. Shannon, a Grants Pass, Oregon housewife with two children, had begun her career of anti-abortion activism with blockading clinics, but over the course of four years, progressed to violent attacks resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage to clinics in four states.
By the end of 1992, Ms. Shannon had committed her last arson and was ready to progress into the final stage murder, or, in the violent anti-abortion underworld parlance, u.d.r. (ultimate direct rescue).
TransformationHer transformation was actually manifested in January of 1993 when Ms. Shannon wrote a letter to Life Advocate magazine, a publication that has condoned violence to end abortion. In the letter Ms. Shannon, referring to the recent spate of attacks on clinics (some of her own making) said,"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. Let's pray no one gets hurt, but this is war and we have to be realistic."
Two months after this letter appeared, Dr. David Gunn was shot in the back as he attempted to enter Pensacola Medical Services. The murderer, Michael Griffin, was immediately taken into custody. In Next Advent, her computer file diary, Ms. Shannon said of the murder,"He didn't shoot Mother Teresa, he shot a mass murderer such as Saddam Hussien (sic) or Hitler. I don't even think it is accurately termed 'murder'. God is the only one who knows whether Gunn would ever have repented or if he would have killed another 5,000 babies and probably 3 or 4 more women who probably weren't Christians either."
With these chilling words, the quiet housewife had completed her descent into a mindset that denies the humanity of the doctors and the worthiness of even the women who seek abortion. Her feet had been set on her own path to murder.
TrialThe murder of David Gunn, while expected (rhetoric had escalated to the point where it was obvious someone would die), nevertheless shocked the pro-choice community and was the beginning of the awakening of the public and law enforcement that things were getting serious in the trenches. Many in the Right-to-Life community were astonished that their years of calling abortion "murder" and doctors "baby killers" had resulted in such action. Some in the "rescue" community, who had been willing to blockade clinics and hassle women with "sidewalk counseling," were not prepared to condone cold-blooded murder. Michael Griffin was roundly condemned in many circles.
But not by Shelley Shannon. She wrote in Christ Advent,"I'm not convinced that God didn't require it of Michael to do this. It is possible. I'm praying God will push more of us 'off the deep end'..."
Before his trial, Ms. Shannon began corresponding with Mr. Griffin and eventually spoke with him by telephone. In her diary she noted that Michael called her and said of him, "He is definitely a Christian." She was very upset by the apparent lack of support for Mr. Griffin in the pro-life community. During this time she also cemented ties with other violent anti-abortion activists such as John Brockhoeft, whose letters she began editing.
In her diary, Ms. Shannon expressed the belief that God could not lead her to do anything sinful, even if it seemed so to the outside world a place that was fast receding from Ms. Shannon's consciousness. Just as Michael had been called to u.d.r., she believed her path had become clear. God asked her to kill, and after praying on it and reading the Bible, she finally had no doubt. Her only prayer now was, "please help me do it right."
TillerMs. Shannon's target was Dr. George Tiller, a physician who practiced in Wichita, Kansas and a major target of the anti-abortion movement. Dr. Tiller was especially hated because he performed late term abortions for which he was nicknamed "Tiller the Killer." In a letter to her daughter Angie written in prison after her arrest, Ms. Shannon tells the story of her quest to emulate Michael.
She had obtained a .25 caliber pistol from an unnamed friend and practiced shooting at her home. A bus took her to Oklahoma City where she rented a car and drove to Wichita. Posing as a patient, she was unable to kill the doctor inside the clinic. Eventually she left the building and hung around outside with the protesters where she says she got the idea to shoot the doctor when he drove out. Around 7:00 PM the doctor and another woman left and Ms. Shannon explained to her daughter how she made her move."Finally they both came out, and fortunately her car was right in from of him, so if he lost control, his vehicle would only smash into hers. So I kept praying, shot, and took off. It never occurred to me that people would come after me, but they did!"
Both the woman and doctor Tiller, who was not seriously wounded, chased Ms. Shannon, but she got away and headed for Oklahoma City. On route, she ditched the gun, which was never recovered. However, before she could get on a plane home, Ms. Shannon was taken into custody.
That was August 19, 1993 and Ms. Shannon has not been a free woman since. She was easily convicted and sentenced to 11 years for attempted murder. In her prison letters to Angie, Ms. Shannon showed no remorse for her actions. A few days after the shooting she wrote,"I'm not denying I shot Tiller. But I deny that it was wrong. It was the most holy, most righteous thing I've ever done. I have no regrets. I hope he's not killing babies today. If he is, at least I tried."
Some in the anti-abortion community supported her actions, especially Rev. Paul Hill who came to her trial. Rev. Hill had emerged on the anti-choice scene a few days after the murder of Dr. Gunn. He was first seen on the Donahue Show arguing that Dr. Gunn's murder was justifiable homicide, a theme he continued until July 28, 1994 when he gunned down Dr. John Britton and his volunteer escort, Colonel James Barrett.
More TrialsAfter murdering the doctor and his escort, Paul Hill was immediately apprehended and taken to jail. The government sentencing report on Ms. Shannon says that before these murders, Ms. Shannon had established a correspondence with Mr. Hill and supported his murderous action as she had that of Michael Griffin. In a letter to a friend in September, 1994, Ms. Shannon wrote,"Some Christians are publicly saying Paul Hill sinned in what he did, that he is a murderer, and even that he 'acted as satan's agent.' I'm totally convinced that God called Paul to do what he did, and he obeyed... Protecting babies, stopping the murders of the innocent, is right and just, even if it takes the use of force to do so. I certainly won't condemn Paul Hill. We correspond, and his letters are very encouraging and often quite humorous."
According to the government sentencing report, Mr. Hill and Ms. Shannon were doing more than sharing amusing anecdotes. They were also discussing strategies for violence. In March, 1995 Ms. Shannon had written her "Brave Soldier" and cautioned,"It appears there is quite a delay in my outgoing mail now too. So help me in the race: Whatever you do, don't talk about how I influenced you to do what you did, especially any conversations beforehand, most especially the particulars (gun, etc.), unless of course you use our codewords."
If Paul Hill did, indeed, take Ms. Shannon's advice, she bears some responsibility for his current status inmate on death row awaiting execution.
Tribulations and TraitorsAfter her conviction on attempted murder, Ms. Shannon finally had to face judgment for her previous escapades. While in custody in Portland awaiting trial on arson, Ms. Shannon wrote a kind of "Christmas letter" to her supporters giving her assessment of events in 1994,"Well, for the ARMY OF GOD 1994 was a pretty great year. Paul Hill performed a termination procedure on an abortionist and his accomplice, and may be put to death for his obedience to God, a most honorable way for a Christian to die. In Canada an abortionist was shot, and the culprits(s) are still free, as far as I know. There were quite a few fires and bombings at American death camps and no one was arrested in connection with them, that I know of."
"The year ended with a bang thanks to John Salvi III. I have to admire his determination. Even after they knew who he was, he took his gun to another mill rather than hiding out and quitting. God, please help and bless him."
However, 1995 was not a good year for Ms. Shannon. She was found guilty of arson and sentenced to 20 more years to be served consecutively with the previous 11. While in custody in Portland, Ms. Shannon in a moment of weakness, or perhaps one of self-interest, talked to authorities about information in her diaries and letters. In effect, she ratted on some of her fellow soldiers.
By April 1995, Ms. Shannon's conscience prompted her to write a long public confession of her "sins" in Prayer and Action Weekly News, a nationally circulated newsletter which also supports violence. (P&A published the John Brockhoeft report edited by Ms. Shannon). In this P&A article, using code words, Ms. Shannon attempted to warn fellow soldiers what she had told the feds.
She admitted two people had convinced her to shoot doctors and another had read a book on how to be a "hit man" and planned to kill doctors "sniper style." Dr. Allred was to be one of the targets. A lady in Kansas was identified as the person who gave Ms. Shannon her first copy of the Army of God. The feds have her name and the letter she sent. Ms. Shannon received other copies anonymously.
She says,"Going through my diaries they learned:... John Witte sent me 'Determined Rescue Info' (clippings on Beaumont, a Rescue America Newsletter, and a couple of other clippings); I wrote Fairy Tale (I was both Shaggy West and Mad Momma); ... had saved a letter from Danny B. explaining a way to blow up a building; contents of mail to Don Anderson, and what the 'incriminating' call he got a write-up for was about (bombing, shooting, etc.)..."
Her parting words to her fellow comrades in arms were this warning,"I hope the soldiers out there leave other people out of their activities. Don't even tell anyone anything, or you may put them in the position of possibly having to choose between their freedom or yours some day. If you keep diaries and notes, the Feds will take them very seriously after your arrest.... And remember, they are putting together puzzles. They may know for instance, that whoever wrote the Army of God Book also did this or that.."
However, her government deal began to fall apart when Ms. Shannon failed two polygraph tests claiming she did not know the identity of Atomic Dog or the Mad Gluer, author of the first edition of AoG.
The government used the P&A article as another nail in her coffin saying her writing was "patently designed to endorse and encourage continued violence, to promote clandestine activities in support of violence, to protect violent offenders, and to thwart law enforcement efforts to apprehend lawbreakers."
A letter to Paul Hill explained her reason for writing the P&A article."... I do want to do what I can as far as damage repair. Those who know will know what was true and what wasn't. My attorney is mad at me for lying to him also. Burn this letter.
Good advice. If Ms. Shannon had listened to herself, she might not be spending the next 30 years in prison.
Today, back in prison in Kansas, Ms. Shannon is seldom visited by family or old friends and her daughter has just been arrested (see Clinic Report pg.16) for a 1993 death threat on a California doctor. But, she still remains a good little soldier in the AoG.
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