Kansas Extremist Arrested for Physician Slaying

  • June 1, 2009

Kansas law enforcement officers arrested a suspect in the May 31, 2009, slaying of a Wichita physician who performed abortions. Sheriff's deputies from Johnson County apprehended Scott Philip Roeder, 51, of Merriam, Kansas, on an interstate highway 150 miles north of Wichita. He was returned to Wichita to be charged with murder and aggravated assault.

The slaying is the most recent of a series of violent incidents and plots involving right-wing extremists over the past eight months. Roeder, the suspect, had a long history of association with extreme right-wing causes, including the anti-government sovereign citizen and tax protest movements. He also was involved in the anti-abortion movement.

Roeder allegedly shot and killed the physician, George Tiller, while Tiller was serving as an usher for Sunday morning services at a Wichita church. He then fled the scene.

Tiller had previously several times been the victim of anti-abortion violence and terrorism. He enraged anti-abortion extremists because his clinic performs some abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy. In 1993, an anti-abortion extremist shot him, in both of his arms. In the 1980s, his clinic was bombed. Tiller often used bodyguards for personal protection but had none with him at his church the day he was fatally shot.

In recent years, Roeder had focused considerable attention on Tiller. In 2007, he posted to an anti-Tiller Web site that Tiller "needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgement [sic] upon our nation." He compared Tiller to Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who performed inhumane experiments on Jewish victims in concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Also in 2007, Roeder posted to the Web site of the controversial anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, supporting protests organized against Tiller. Roeder praised people he felt would "bring justice to Tiller and the closing of his death camp."

One Kansas City anti-abortion activist, Regina Dinwiddie, told a reporter after the shooting that Roeder "believed in justifiable homicide" against abortion providers. According to another anti-abortion activist, Dave Leach, Roeder also visited in prison the person who had shot Tiller in 1993.

However, Roeder's involvement with extreme causes was wider than simply anti-abortion extremists. He also had a long history of involvement with anti-government extremist movements such as the sovereign citizen and the tax protest movements. The sovereign citizen movement believes that a conspiracy took over the "real" government and the "false" government has no jurisdiction over them.

In April 1996, Roeder was arrested in Topeka after deputies pulled him over for having a bogus sovereign citizen license plate on his vehicle and subsequently found bomb-making materials in his car. He was charged with criminal use of explosives and several traffic charges. The arrest came during the Montana Freeman standoff, a time when many in the sovereign citizen movement were expecting confrontations with the government.

Roeder was subsequently convicted of an explosives violation and sentenced to supervised probation. In 1997, a judge revoked Roeder's parole because Roeder refused to file an income tax return and other reasons. During the hearing, Roeder offered the standard tax protest argument that income taxes were voluntary.

Roeder received a 16 month prison sentence. However, his conviction was subsequently overturned after a Kansas court ruled that police had obtained the evidence improperly and he was released in 1998.

The shooting of Tiller is just the latest of a number of other high-profile acts of right-wing violence in the past eight months, including:

  • April 2009, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: White supremacist Richard Poplawski is arrested for the alleged murder of three Pittsburgh police officers.
  • January 2009, Brockton, Massachusetts: White supremacist Keith Luke is arrested for allegedly murdering two immigrants and raping a third. He was stopped before he could carry out what was reported to be his final goal: opening fire inside a crowded synagogue.
  • October 2008, Crockett County, Tennessee: Two white supremacists, Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman, are arrested for a plot to murder 102 African-Americans and assassinate then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.