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Anti-Abortion Violence: America's Forgotten Terrorism

In recent years, domestic extremists of various stripes have committed violent acts in the United States from murders to arsons to bombings.The perpetrators garnering the most attention, from both the media and the government, have been domestic Muslim extremists. Right-wing anti-government extremists and white supremacists have come in second. Attention has also been devoted to the violent acts of environmental and animal rights extremists.

The recent arrest in Green Bay, Wisconsin, of Francis Grady, 50, for allegedly setting off an incendiary device at a Planned Parenthood clinic serves to remind Americans of another form of domestic extremism: anti-abortion violence. Like environmental and animal rights violence, anti-abortion violence is a form of single-issue extremism. Typically, single-issue extremism emerges as an ultra-radical wing of a much broader social or political movement, a wing so agitated about its chosen cause that its adherents may come to believe that violence in the service of that cause is justified or even required.

The radical anti-abortion movement emerged in the 1980s; its violence peaked in the early 1990s with dozens of bombings, arsons, murders and attempted murders. The frequency of anti-abortion violence began to ebb in the mid-1990s, but never dissipated entirely. Anti-abortion violence has actually remained a consistent, if secondary, source of domestic terrorism and violence, manifesting itself most often in assaults and vandalism, with occasional arsons, bombings, drive-by shootings, and assassination attempts. As one anti-abortion extremist, while serving a prison sentence for anti-abortion arsons, put it in 2010: "Abortionists are killed because they are serial murderers of innocent children who must be stopped, and they will continue to be stopped."

In addition to the Green Bay firebombing, some other recent examples of anti-abortion violence include:

  • Madison, Wisconsin, March 2012: A federal grand jury indicted Ralph Lang, 63, on charges of attempting to intimidate by force people participating in a program receiving federal financial assistance, as well as using or carrying a firearm in relation to the alleged crime. According to police, Lang travelled to Madison to threaten to kill people at a local Planned Parenthood clinic; he was arrested after allegedly firing his gun in a motel room while practicing drawing it.
  • Pensacola, Florida, February 2012: A federal grand jury indicted Bobby Joe Rogers, 41, of Pensacola, Florida, for the alleged arson of a women's health clinic in Pensacola the previous month. Rogers allegedly used a Molotov cocktail (a type of incendiary device) to set the fire.
  • Madera, California, January 2012: A federal court sentenced Donny Eugene Mower, 38, to five years in prison for having thrown a Molotov cocktail at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Madera in 2010, leaving behind a note that read, in part, "Let's see if you can burn just as well as your victims."
  • McKinney, Texas, July 2011: A Molotov cocktail was thrown at a Planned Parenthood clinic in north Texas.
  • Greensboro, North Carolina, March 2011: Justin Carl Moose, 26, received a 30-month federal prison sentence after pleading guilty to distributing information pertaining to the manufacturing and use of an explosive. Moose, who claimed to be part of the radical anti-abortion group Army of God, had described himself as an "extremist radical fundamentalist" who wanted to fight abortion "by any means necessary and at any cost." He had provided bomb-making instructions to an undercover FBI informant whom he thought was going to bomb an abortion clinic.
  • Wichita, Kansas, April 2010: A federal court sentenced anti-abortion extremist Scott Roeder to life in prison on first degree murder and aggravated assault charges for the June 2009 assassination of a Wichita physician who performed abortion procedures.
  • Plano, Texas, April 2010: FBI agents arrested Erlydon Lo, 27, on charges that he threatened to use deadly force against a women's clinic in Dallas. Lo had filed a document threatening to appear at the facility the next day that said, in part, "if I must use deadly force to defend the innocent life of another human being, I will."
  • St. Paul, Minnesota, May 2009: Matthew Lee Derosia, 33, received a sentence of time serviced and five years of probation for purposely driving his truck earlier that year into the front of a St. Paul Planned Parenthood clinic on the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.

Unfortunately, incidents of anti-abortion violence are often excluded from government reports on terrorism in the United States, which can easily help create an impression that it is no longer a problem. On the contrary, anti-abortion violence remains a troubling element of America's domestic terrorism environment.

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Like environmental and animal rights violence, anti-abortion violence is a form of single-issue extremism. Typically, single-issue extremism emerges as an ultra-radical wing of a much broader social or political movement, a wing so agitated about its chosen cause that its adherents may come to believe that violence in the service of that cause is justified or even required.

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