When a bomb ripped into an Atlanta abortion clinic some weeks ago, federal agents arriving on the scene might well have expected to find another in a series of amateurish attacks by the fringe of the antichoice movement. Instead, as the cops soon realized, they had walked into a sophisticated trap. A second bomb would explode, injuring emergency workers as well as police.
This incident is reminiscent of IRA tactics against the British in Belfast, where an attack on a British soldier, for instance, is used to attract more soldiers, who are then ambushed. In Atlanta the initial target was an abortion clinic. But the second bomb, aparently aimed at federal agents, could reveal exactly who is behind the assault. The agents, who hitherto had not been targets of the antiabortion movement, are the dire enemy of far-right terrorists.
Over the last year the far right has attacked abortion clinics, although they weren't its only focus. Ray Lampley, a far-right racialist in Oklahoma, and two members of a national militia were convicted in federal court last year of conspiring to bomb abortion clinics along with gay bars, welfare offices, an Anti-Defamation League office, and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. According to the federal complaint, Lampley wanted to blow up the buildings in order "to create problems for the government."
In Spokane, Washington, last fall, three men who claimed ties to the Phineas Priesthood were charged with two bank robberies and the bombings of a newspaper office and a Planned Parenthood clinic. The charges are still pending. Federal investigators have also raised the possibility that last summer's Atlanta Olympic Park bombing might have been the work of this Phineas gang. White revolutionaries sometimes think of themselves as part of that mythical kinship, named for a Bible story in which Phineas slew an interracial couple having sex.
Today's Phineas Priesthood is supposedly made up of like-minded lone killers, who have taken it upon themselves to do God's will. Their role in the far-right movement has been popularized by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, in another of his books called The Hunter. Written in 1989, it tells the story of a drive-by killer who starts out murdering interracial couples and works his way up to killing Jews in order to cleanse America of its sickness and save the future o f white civilization. The book is dedicated to Joseph Paul Franklin, the serial killer, who is serving multiple life sentences for the murder of at least two black men. In addition, Byron de la Beckwith, convicted of murdering Medgar Evers, has referred to himself as a Phineas priest. And Paul Hill, who is on death row in Florida for the murder of an abortion doctor and his escort, has written an essay calling for "Phineas actions." In 1994, he told USA Today, "I could envision a covert organ ization developing, something like a prolife IRA."
During the heyday of the far right, in the early and mid '80s, the racialist underground often attacked abortion. Bob Mathews, leader of the terror gang known as The Order, saw abortion as the suicide of the white race. Jim Wickstrom, the Christian Identity leader of another underground terror group called the Posse Comitatus, ranted against Jewish doctors and nurses who engaged in abortion. Posse screeds claimed the space program was part of a plot to get rid of aborted fetuses by blasting them into space.
More recently, the federal government's storming of the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound brought the two groups together. Waco convinced the racialist right and fundamentalist Christians to temporarily set aside their differences, and join together in an attack on the federal government. Abortion was one area on which most groups could agree.
Last year the Buchanan campaign temporarily united a wide range of prolife, militia, and other far-right activists behind the conservative journalist's quest for the Republican nomination. Abortion was one of the principal issues that helped bring together the disparate Buchanan followers. Larry Pratt, a top official in the Buchanan campaign and well known in Washington as a right wing operative, was forced to resign when he was revealed to have addressed far-right racialist gatherings. Pratt is sometimes credited with helping to found the militia movement.
Not everyone on the far right is against abortion. Tom Metzger, who heads the White Aryan Resistence (WAR), told the Voice, ''The whole abortion thing is a mixed bag. We're 100 per cent for abortion in the nonwhite communities. Our position is to discourage white women from doing it, but we're not supporting a law to make it illegal ... But for your right wing reactionary Christian types, this is something they have on the front burner. Their logic is wrong because a tremendous number of thos e being aborted are nonwhite children, and that's fine.''
Aside from Christian Identity, the most militant adherents against abortion on the Christian Right are the Reconstructionists. This group grew out of the conservative wing of Presbyterianism and believes in the literal implementation of Old Testament laws. Under God, the nuclear family is the basic unit, with the husband at its head, and the wife and children "in submission." According to Fred Clarkson's new book, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, in the view of Reconstructionists, civil government should exist to implement God's law, and women who have abortions should be publicly executed, along with anyone who assists them, preferably by stoning or hanging.
For many on the far right, opposition to abortion is but the most visible expression of a general attitude toward women, who are believed to be inferior helpers of man. "Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness," wrote Rodney O. Skurdal, a Montana Freeman and Christian Identity adherent, in his "Edict," which he claimed was drawn from the Scriptures. "I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent." Women are not permitted to vote or hold public office, according to Skurdal.
Even in their personal dealings, far-right revolutionaries reveal their beliefs about a woman's proper social role. One young woman in Oklahoma, who dated Christian Identity followers, had hoped they'd teach her to shoot and become a guerrilla. But the men rebuffed her, asking for sex instead. The woman told one of the men she wanted a relationship first. The man shook his head. "Women are for breeding," he said.
Research assistance by Erica Macy. Copyright the Village Voice. Reprinted with permission.