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the Body Politic
Vol. 8, No. 1 - Jan/Feb 1998, Page 28
Copyright © 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.
Book Reviews Reviewed by Patricia Baird-Windle

Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War
By Jim Risen and Judy Thomas
Harpercollins, 1998
Wrath of Angels is available from the Body Politic

A View Of the Landmark Book:
Wrath of Angels

From the first moment I knew that this book was being written, I waited with a heightened sense of expectation. Finally, I felt, perhaps, an accurate historical rendering would be made to show the nation and the world the horrors endured by abortion providers and our patients.

As a provider heavily targeted by anti-abortion extremists, I have been interviewed by many hundreds of reporters. Comparing Judy Thomas with the others is a simple job. She is the most knowledgeable and experienced writer to ever cover this extremism.

As a provider heavily targeted by anti-abortion extremists, I have been interviewed by many hundreds of reporters. Comparing Judy Thomas with the others is a simple job. She is the most knowledgeable and experienced writer to ever cover this extremism. Tenacious and indomitable, I saw Judy as the one great hope among her colleagues. Many times I told people that she is the best reporter in the field on this subject. As I ranked journalists, Judy was far above the closest five. She still is.

And yet, I find Wrath of Angels to be far less than satisfactory. The book tells one portion of the total story with consummate skill. Thomas and her co-author Jim Risen unveil remarkably revealing interviews of components of this war against American women and the abortion providers who serve them. As Risen and Thomas trace the early portions of the rise of Operation Rescue under Randall Terry, the interviews contain naked, boastful admissions of guilt from the zealots such as Joan Andrews Bell, Michael Bray, the imprisoned trio Paul Hill, Michael Griffin and Shelley Shannon, and Randall Terry himself.

These zealots are bragging for the record because they can do so with little fear of prosecution. They know that their cohorts will praise them and do not care if law-abiding Americans revile them. With the revealing interviews as judging criteria, the book is a spectacular success. As such, it finds a needed niche in American history. Nonetheless, if the reading public sees this book as the whole story of anti-abortion extremism and accepts the erroneous conclusions drawn by Thomas and Risen, a significant danger is posed to the future of abortion provision.

The authors tell the personal histories of John Kavanaugh O'Keefe, John Ryan, and Francis Schaeffer plus those already noted. They skillfully trace the failures of early anti-abortion activism and its failures to accomplish much in stopping or even slowing abortion. Their problems occur when they focus exclusively on the massive noisy blockades of Operation Rescue and its smaller and quieter predecessors. The authors set themselves up for erroneous conclusions because they looked at only the overt components of the abortion war, the most visible activities. Only one fourth of the story is thus told.

As a major target of these despicable zealots, I am an expert -- however unwilling -- on the total picture of anti-abortion fanaticism. I know from experience that there are four major components to this peculiar and different kind of war. First there is the part covered by Wrath of Angels, the overt actions of mass blockades and sidewalk screaming that devolved into public assassinations of doctors, defenders and staff. But where is the second part, the experiences of patients and the very real people who experienced these mediagenic attacks? There is an echo only, a hollow a brief touching on our very existence and no weight given to what we felt or how we feel in retrospect.

This is the first major failing of Wrath of Angels. In Wrath of Angels, we hear almost nothing of the covert war, the third component, the guerrilla war that has had the strongest harmful impact on abortion providers short of the actual killings and wounding. A few providers including me are quoted briefly in Wrath, but none of the devastating toll on us is considered nor covered. It is as though the shadowy war against us has not taken place at all or is not significant enough to be rendered as a part of history. Though cliche, I must say "And what are we, chopped liver?"

Knowing that once again our true stories are not told, I feel the loss of hope that the public might understand our ordeals and help us get the establishment to come to our rescue with sufficient legislation, law enforcement and prosecutions. A few scattered cases brought by the Justice Department have helped in a few jurisdictions. But they are so few as to carry little hope of genuine help. Where are the cases for interference in interstate commerce and the criminal cases under the RICO statute that could have disbanded and chilled these guerrillas who are domestic terrorists? The sum total of the nasty tactics used against us constitutes extortion. Yet where is Justice? And where is Wrath of Angels when reporting only a fourth of the war?

The book also fails to show the geographic scope of the great sweep of blockades that hid the true war in the shadows. This sweep of lawlessness across the nation was dramatic and revealing of a great plan and massively detailed orchestration. This is surprisingly missing in Wrath, though of epic sweep in the history of the anti-abortion movement. How could the authors have missed such dramatic evidence?

A major failing is their dismissal of Scheidler as a main player because, fearing arrest, he was largely a wimp where the blockade movement was concerned. Risen and Thomas, in so devaluing Scheidler's importance, virtually overlook, even deny, the obvious components of conspiracy that show Scheidler as the author and leader of the conspiracy that spread like wildfire across the US and Canada. The same pressure tactics appeared simultaneously in hundreds of locales or showed up remarkably soon thereafter. Coincidence? Not even vaguely. Who recruited and hired these people? Did they just rise up spontaneously? To believe so beggars description and devalues the horror of the experiences of hundreds of us.

I believe that "All roads lead to Scheidler." I know that thorough research and investigation proves this. Why did Thomas and her co-writer not see or report on the low-level war in the shadows? Show us the money. Who financed the war? Who fund-raised? Where did the proceeds of the fund-raising go? (Or disappear, as in the case of JerryFalwell?) Who recruited, trained, and scheduled? Do you really believe that every case was homegrown, that Shelley Shannon had no more tutelage or guidance than a poorly Xeroxed copy of The Army of God Handbook?

Readers of the Body Politic, please buy this book. Though I am tremendously disappointed in its failings and far less than adequate conclusions, it nonetheless tells a small portion of a history that must be told and understood. It, Wrath of Angels, is simply not enough.

In an interview with the editor of the Body Politic, Judy Thomas tells of her concerns and conclusions that the violence is connected to the militia and patriot movements developing so frighteningly before and after the Oklahoma City bombing. Yet these conclusions in the book are watered down as though they are but nominal threats in the war against abortion providers. Did this dilution of conclusion take place with editors and publisher who cannot quite believe the sum and substance of this damnable guerrilla war?

Other competent reporters tell me that their editors deny such goings on, shortening their stories and diluting understanding of the negative impact on providers. This is called denial and is the reason that those of us who prophesied the killings were ignored. The result overall -- and the result of the impact of the book Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion War -- is that the true and full story goes untold and the suffering continues.

Readers of the Body Politic, please buy this book. Though I am tremendously disappointed in its failings and far less than adequate conclusions, it nonetheless tells a small portion of a history that must be told and understood. It, Wrath of Angels, is simply not enough.


Other reviews of Wrath of Angels are available


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