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Bullies For Jesus : God's MURDERERS
Monday, June 01 2009 @ 03:01 AM CDT
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by Abby Zimet
Responding on a so-called Christian news site to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who led protests at the good doctor's Kansas abortion clinic, called Tiller "a mass-murderer" and grieved only that "he did not have time to properly prepare his soul to face God." We hope, when Terry nears his end, he has more time. He will need it.
As one of a handful of doctors performing late-term abortions, Tiller provided quality health care to women facing a horrific choice – a choice none wanted to make, and that Terry and his unthinking mob of zealots could not possibly comprehend. Present at the protests, Mary Mapes describes "the supercharged army of bullies for Jesus" that hounded those women "on the most heart-breaking day of their lives." Shame on them. In their blind and righteous hatred, they led inexorably to today's act of terrorism, in, grotesquely, fittingly, a church.
I felt just sick today when I saw the bulletin about the murder of Dr. George Tiller.
Sicker still when I saw the "sympathy" letter issued by officials at Operation Rescue, the virulent anti-abortion organization that dogged this poor man for the past two decades. The statement said, "We pray for Mr. Tiller's family."
They had better say a few prayers for their own souls. They had better pray for forgiveness for relentlessly working to make this man a target.
Operation Rescue's Web site said the organization was "shocked" by the murder.
Well, I'm not.
This has been a long time coming, and no one has played a greater part in the run-up to the doctor's death than Operation Rescue. Their leaders -- and all of the group's enablers -- should be cowering in shame today.
I was in Wichita, Kansas in 1991 covering Operation Rescue's cruelly misnamed "Summer of Mercy," a six-week ordeal when thousands of anti-abortion protesters descended on Dr. George Tiller.
These "rescuers" -- sweaty mobs of zombie-like true believers -- swarmed across the street in front of the clinic like angry ants. They crawled over the hot asphalt toward his office on their hands and knees. They collapsed onto the stairs, chained themselves to the fence, shrieked prayers and threats and bellowed the Biblical equivalent of evil spells at anyone who approached the place. They fell lifelessly to the ground, some of them swooning and crashing spectacularly to earth.
When I went to Wichita to cover this, I thought I would be assigned there for a day or two. But this became more than a single protest. It turned out to be the birthplace of heartland civil disobedience against abortion and it went on and on and on.
Like the protesters, news people at the siege had a regular daily schedule.
Every day we rose early and raced to the clinic, set up our cameras in the hot Midwestern sun and waited for the anti-abortion performance art to begin.
Like clockwork, Operation Rescue's fleet of air-conditioned buses would pull up an hour before the office opened. Out would pour hundreds and hundreds of protesters eager to lay their lives and their bodies on the line for the "babies."
Wichita police were overpowered and overworked. The protesters were over-excited and overweight.
Day after day, weary local cops had to pick up and drag away protesters by the ton, literally. By the end, all the officers were wearing wide leather lifting belts in an attempt to protect their backs as they struggled to hoist and carry off so much dead weight. Police complained to us bitterly about colleagues who had seriously damaged their backs.
I remember one cop telling me he was praying the protests would stop before he ruined his back and his career.
Every night in the hotel that Operation Rescue designated as its home base, the organization sponsored a "worship service" that featured singing, prayer, sermonizing and a whole lotta snake oil.
Operation Rescue leader Randall Terry, an egotistical, self-aggrandizing super-nerd, commanded the room like a rock star. Women fainted and lay trembling on the ground when he entered to thundering applause and the screams of people who love Jesus so much they act like they're crazy.
The chemistry in the room was unlike anything I've been around, before or since.
In just a few weeks in Wichita, Operation Rescue forged an unholy alliance of sexually repressed super Christians, men who hate women and women who hate themselves and turned them into a supercharged army of bullies for Jesus.
And they were bullies.
In 1991 and until his murder, Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors in this country who performed late-term abortions. Despite what Operation Rescue claimed, none of his clients were ending pregnancies on a whim. None of them wanted to be there.
Each case was a tragedy -- a much anticipated child discovered to have only a partially formed head, a baby that was dying in the womb and had to be delivered, a child with medical problems so profound as to be unimaginable, a diagnosis that meant a child's life outside its mother's body would be both brief and brutal.
Tiller's clients often included couples who had been hoping to become parents but had their hearts broken late in pregnancy when they received horrifying medical news about their much-wanted babies.
These people got no mercy from Operation Rescue.
They were hounded and harassed, shoved and shouted at on the most heart-breaking day of their lives. In order for patients to make it to their appointments, clinic supporters had to coordinate each woman's arrival with walkie-talkies. They shielded the patient by forming a flying wedge of bodies that rushed through the crowd to escort her into the building.
I watched one woman sobbing as she and her husband were helped into the clinic. Her tears went unnoticed by the hundreds of protestors surrounding her who shrieked and wailed and tried to trip the people escorting her to the door.
It was horrible.
And now, finally, after all the heavy breathing about heaven and God, evil and innocence, Operation Rescue by all appearances has goaded someone into killing George Tiller.
He was shot to death as he worked as an usher at his longtime church. His wife was close by in her regular place in the choir. The circumstances of his murder highlight precisely how hypocritical and grotesque this brand of "morality" is.
The zealots are already feigning shock that something like this could happen. Their partners in crime will soon be doing the same.
I can already envision the backpedaling and rationalizing that we'll hear from longtime Tiller critic Bill O'Reilly. Dr. James Dobson, who hosted the triumphant closing "Summer of Mercy" event that summer in Wichita, will undoubtedly declare himself deeply saddened.
I keep going back to Operation Rescue's catchy slogan for the "Summer of Mercy." They yelled it at everyone within earshot.
"If you believe abortion is murder, act like it's murder."
Maybe they have a point.
After this country's seemingly endless assaults and murders of clinic doctors and staff, the explosions and fire bombings, the vandalism and harassment, it's clear that this violent behavior is not a natural outgrowth of religious belief or moral concerns.
This is not part of a disagreement over when life begins.
This is terrorism.
And if we believe this is terrorism, we need to act like it's terrorism.
Suspect held in slaying of Kan. abortion doctor
Controversial physician was gunned down Sunday morning at church
WICHITA, Kansas - Dr. George Tiller, who remained one of the nation's few providers of late-term abortions through decades of protests and attacks, was shot and killed Sunday in a church where he was serving as an usher and his wife was in the choir.
The gunman fled, but a 51-year-old suspect was arrested some 170 miles away in suburban Kansas City three hours after the shooting, Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz said. Johnson County sheriff's spokesman Tom Erickson identified the man in custody as Scott Roeder, who has not been charged in the slaying.
President Barack Obama said he was shocked and outraged over the killing.
Long a focus of national anti-abortion groups, including a summer-long protest in 1991, Tiller was serving as an usher during Sunday morning services when he was shot in the foyer of Reformation Lutheran Church, Stolz said. Tiller's attorney, Dan Monnat, said Tiller's wife, Jeanne, was in the choir at the time.
Stolz said all indications were that the man acted alone, although authorities were investigating whether he had any connection to anti-abortion groups.
Suspect being brought back to Wichita
Stolz said the man being held would likely be charged Monday with one count of murder and two of aggravated assault. Stolz said the gunman threatened two people who tried to stop him.
The slaying of the 67-year-old doctor is "an unspeakable tragedy," his widow, four children and 10 grandchildren said in statement issued by Monnat. "This is particularly heart-wrenching because George was shot down in his house of worship, a place of peace."
The family said its loss "is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence."
Adam Watkins, 20, said he was sitting in the middle of the church's congregation when he heard a small pop at the start of the service.
"We just thought a child had come in with a balloon and it had popped, had gone up and hit the ceiling and popped," Watkins said.
Another usher came in and told the congregation to remain seated, then escorted Tiller's wife out. "When she got to the back doors, we heard her scream, and so we knew something bad had happened," Watkins said.
He said the service continued even after an associate pastor announced that Tiller had been injured. "We were just really shocked," he said. "We were kind of dumbfounded. We couldn't really believe it had happened." Tiller's Women's Health Care Services clinic is one of just three in the nation where abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy. The clinic was heavily fortified and Tiller often traveled with a bodyguard, but Stolz said there was no indication of security at the church Sunday.
A protester shot Tiller in both arms in 1993, and his clinic was bombed in 1985. More recently, Monnat said Tiller had asked federal prosecutors to step up investigations of vandalism and other threats against the clinic out of fear that the incidents were increasing and that Tiller's safety was in jeopardy. Stolz, however, said police knew of no threats connected to the shooting.
In early May, Tiller had asked the FBI to investigate vandalism at his clinic, including cut wires to surveillance cameras and damage to the roof that sent rainwater pouring into the building.
Anti-abortion leaders fear backlash
Anti-abortion groups denounced the shooting and stressed that they support only nonviolent protest. The movement's leaders fear the killing could create a backlash just as they are scrutinizing U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, whose views on abortion rights are not publicly known.
"We are shocked at this morning's disturbing news that Mr. Tiller was gunned down," Troy Newman, Operation Rescue's president, said in a statement. "Operation Rescue has worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see him brought to justice. We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning."
1991 Summer of Mercy protests
In 1991, the Summer of Mercy protests organized by Operation Rescue drew thousands of anti-abortion activists to this city for demonstrations marked by civil disobedience and mass arrests.
Tiller began providing abortion services in 1973. He acknowledged abortion was as socially divisive as slavery or prohibition but said the issue was about giving women a choice when dealing with technology that can diagnose severe fetal abnormalities before a baby is born.
Nancy Keenan, president of abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued a statement praising Tiller's commitment.
"Dr. Tiller's murder will send a chill down the spines of the brave and courageous providers and other professionals who are part of reproductive-health centers that serve women across this country. We want them to know that they have our support as they move forward in providing these essential services in the aftermath of the shocking news from Wichita," Keenan said.
Clinic fortified by bulletproof glass
After the 1991 protests, Tiller kept mostly to his heavily guarded clinic, although in 1997 he opened it to three tours by state lawmakers and the media.
The clinic is fortified with bulletproof glass, and Tiller hired a private security team to protect the facility. Once outside the clinic, Tiller was routinely accompanied by a bodyguard.
At a recent trial, he told jurors that he and his family have suffered years of harassment and threats and that he knew he was a target of anti-abortion protesters.
Federal marshals protected Tiller during the 1991 Summer of Mercy protests, and he was protected again between 1994 and 1998 after another abortion provider was assassinated and federal authorities reported finding Tiller's name on an assassination list.
Tiller remained prominent in the news, in part because of an investigation begun by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an abortion opponent.
Prosecutors had alleged that Tiller had gotten second opinions from a doctor who was essentially an employee of his, not independent as state law requires. A jury in March acquitted Tiller of all 19 misdemeanor counts.
"I am stunned by this lawless and violent act, which must be condemned and should be met with the full force of law," Kline said in a written statement. "We join in lifting prayer that God's grace and presence rest with Dr. Tiller's family and friends."
Abortion opponents also questioned then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' ties to Tiller before the Senate confirmed her this year as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary. Tiller donated thousands of dollars to Sebelius over the years.
Following is a list of other recent cases of abortion-related violence:
April 2007: Authorities say Paul Ross Evans placed a homemade bomb in the parking lot of the Austin Women's Health Center in Texas. A bomb squad disposes of the device, which contained two pounds of nails. There were no injuries. Evans was later sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian is fatally shot in his home in a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y. Militant abortion opponent James Kopp is convicted of the murder in 2003 and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Jan. 29, 1998: A bomb explodes just outside a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic, killing a police officer and wounding several others. Eric Rudolph was arrested in May 2003 after several years on the lam. He later pleaded guilty to that incident and the deadly bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He was sentenced in 2005 to two consecutive life terms without parole.
Jan. 16, 1997: Two bomb blasts an hour apart rock an Atlanta building containing an abortion clinic. Seven people are injured. Rudolph is charged by federal authorities in October 1998.
Dec. 30, 1994: John Salvi opens fire with a rifle inside two Boston-area abortion clinics, killing two receptionists and wounding five others. Sentenced to life without parole, he kills himself in prison in 1996.
Nov. 8, 1994: Dr. Garson Romalis, who performs abortions in Vancouver, Canada, is shot in the leg while eating breakfast at home.
July 29, 1994: Dr. John Bayard Britton and his volunteer escort, James H. Barrett, are slain outside a Pensacola, Fla., abortion clinic. Barrett's wife, June, is wounded in the attack. Paul J. Hill, 40, a former minister and anti-abortion activist, is later convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
Aug. 19, 1993: Dr. George Tiller is shot in the arms as he drives out of parking lot at his Wichita, Kan., clinic. Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon is later convicted and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn is shot to death outside Pensacola, Fla., clinic, becoming the first U.S. doctor killed during an anti-abortion demonstration. Michael Griffin is convicted and serving a life sentence.
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