Straight Shooters Donald Spitz wouldn't win any awards for elocution. But as head of Pro-Life Virginia and a longtime supporter of hard-core anti-abortion fanatics, Spitz believes that violence in defense of the pre-born -- including the murder of abortion clinic doctors -- is not only justifiable, but cannot be condemned. He has stepped up to the podium to present an award to the man who has been called "the father of violence," the man who has organized this event, the Rev. Michael Bray.
Bray, the pastor of a tiny congregation at his Reformation Lutheran Church in Bowie, Md., outside Washington, D.C., is a fit 48 with 10 kids. As Bray steps forward, Spitz offers congratulations to the 100 or so others in the room for surviving "eight years of Janet Reno trying to lock you up."
Holding up a small plaque, Spitz reads to Bray: "In recognition of your faithful and true commitment and support of the underground soldiers and saints of the Army of God. And for your unyielding and uncompromising spirit when confronted with the hedonistic pagan forces currently dominating our government and society. We do this day, January 21, 2001 A.D., establish and ordain Rev. Michael Bray, a lifetime chaplain in the Army of God."
The far-flung Army of God is not an organization these folks readily admit to membership in, but Bray was outed years ago. One of the pieces of evidence that sent him to prison for four years in the 1980s in connection with a series of clinic arson attacks was a note with A.O.G., for the Army of God, written on it and left at the scene of one crime. He was arrested Jan. 18, 1985, and convicted that May on two counts of conspiracy and one count of possessing an unregistered explosive device.
With the plaque is another surprise gift for Bray: a gasoline can used, says Spitz, in previous clinic arson attacks and donated by an Army of God member still on the lam.
"Instructions for use," Spitz reads:
"One: In the dead of night, quietly break basement window.
Two: Empty contents through hole.
Three: Light match and apply to fluid.
Four: Run like the wind."
The crowd roars its approval.
Hate is good
Hate is good
Welcome to the fifth White Rose Banquet, an event first staged here in Bowie, Md., in 1996. The group skipped the year 2000 in anticipation of a Y2K apocalypse. With Roe v. Wade -- the 1973 decision that legalized abortion -- one Supreme Court justice away from being overturned, I have come, with the permission of organizer Michael Bray, to see what the radical fringe of the pro-life movement is up to.
The banquet is held on the eve of the Jan. 22 anniversary of the decision, and is named for a secret society started in Munich in July 1942 by a handful of German students and professors who opposed Hitler.
The reference to the Holocaust is more than a little intentional.
This year, for the first time, there is also a conference preceding the banquet. After dinner, "saints in bondage" -- those jailed for their acts, most violent, against abortion clinics and providers -- will be honored. And for the first time, these "soldiers" in God's army will meet while there's a pro-life president in the White House.
The conference speakers list is headlined by Rev. Matt Trewhella, of the Mercy Seat Christian Church of Milwaukee and founder of Missionaries to the Pre-Born.
Trewhella is a small man whose voice rarely rises or suggests anger, but his message is clear: He is looking for fighters for the Lord, and he encourages hate as a motivation.
"Hate is good," he says. "God loves and God also hates" -- especially evil, hypocrisy and the wicked.
He also appears to be raising an army of his own right at home. He tells a story about how one day he took his family -- he has nine kids -- to McDonald's, and one of his young sons confronted some other children who were swearing. They refused to stop, saying they would swear whenever they wanted to, so his son replied, "Oh yeah, we're from Mercy Seat Christian Church, and if you do we'll hunt you down and shoot you." He then went out to the family car and returned with an armful of toy guns.
"Obviously, I needed to do a little catechizing and instructing with my son about proper evangelistic tactics," Trewhella says. "But you have to appreciate the spirit there, the love for justice, the love for God," he continues. "That's what I mean, make fighters out of them. ... It's kind of nice to see that attitude."
The next to speak is David Crane, one of the founders of the American Coalition of Life Activists, which was successfully sued by Planned Parenthood in Portland in 1999 over its threatening "Wanted" posters and "Nuremberg files" Web site identifying abortion doctors. While the ACLA has disbanded, its appeal of the ruling goes forward. Crane, another mild-mannered man, has come to the White Rose Conference to express his satisfaction in and hopes for the new Bush administration. It is not a widely held hope among these folks, for whom no one outside this room is sufficiently militant in the protection of the unborn.
Still, Crane says he takes Bush at his word that he will appoint judges who are like Clarence Thomas and like Antonin Scalia. "We'll see if he keeps that promise," Crane says. He also expresses satisfaction in the appointment of John Ashcroft for attorney general. "He's not a perfect man," Crane says. "I do believe that if a man who has convictions as strong as his can go as far as he has as governor and as attorney general of his state, that there may still be hope for our nation."
Among the prominent anti-abortion extremists at the White Rose conference and banquet is Tim Dreste, a militia member from Ashcroft's home state of Missouri. Dreste was a member of the Republican State Central Committee while Ashcroft was in the U.S. Senate. He was also one of the defendants, along with Bray, found liable in 1999 in the ACLA suit brought by Planned Parenthood. Dreste was ousted from the Missouri Republican Central Committee after the $107 million judgment was handed down. Pro-choice activists have accused Ashcroft of being slow to oppose Dreste, who has a history of supporting the use of violence against abortion providers.
But the speaker who steals the show is a street and campus preacher named Chuck Spingola. Chuck is a man, says Trewhella, "who understands that hate is good." Spingola made his mark in the movement when he shinnied up a flagpole at the Ohio Statehouse and ripped down a "sodomite" rainbow flag.
Spingola talks about his rough young life, his early stays in prison, and above all, his hatred of homosexuals. One look at him, a pretty-boy looking 45-year-old, makes you wonder what went on in his youth or prison to make him so vehemently anti-gay.
"Not only do they not hide their sodomy in the closet in shame, they want to push it on you and in your schools," Spingola says. "They want to make sissies out of your little boys, just like them. And they do it with the blessing of the government. Now these people are vile folks. ... If you deal with these people long enough, you understand the wisdom of God when he says they should be put to death. ... My wife used to say, 'Honey, do you believe all homosexuals should be put to death?' I said, 'No, dear, you get about a half a dozen of the activists, you kill them, and the rest of them will go back in the closet."
The crowd loves it.
A time to kill
"Is he dead yet?" That's how the Jan. 9, 2001 issue of Michael Bray's publication, The Capitol Area Christian News, opens. He's talking about President Clinton.
"No. The rapist (or "murderer" or "liar" or "adulterer" or "traitor" depending upon the latest reports from Washington) lives and is still in the White House.
"So it goes, morning after morning. The national shame we bear is fitting for a nation which chooses the Abortion President, and then refuses to excrete him from the body of government when he proves himself a true liar and pervert as well as a murderer of infants. What shall we expect of a nation which not only tolerates such a sodomite pleaser but wants to have his understudy Algore to rule over them when his term of tyranny finally runs out?"
Bray grew up in Bowie, and according to the 1998 book A Wrath of Angels by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas, he once dated Kathie Epstein -- later to become Kathie Lee Gifford. He began his career as an abortion clinic bomber in 1984, four years before the founding of the most famous of anti-abortion groups, Operation Rescue. In 1994, six years after getting out of prison, he published his book, A Time To Kill, an attempt to establish a theological justification for the use of violence (he would say "force") in the defense of the unborn. He also writes that it is not inconsistent to be pro-life and support the death penalty, because abortion is the taking of innocent life, whereas the death penalty is the taking of guilty life.
His writing and speeches are full of apocalyptic language. Clinics are abortion chambers, "abortuaries" or death camps. Abortion providers are "serial killers" or "abortionists." If "doctor" is used, it is in quotation marks. One does not perform an abortion, one "commits" abortion.
Pro-lifers, meanwhile, are the new abolitionists.
Bray writes that he does not advocate killing clinic workers, but does proclaim such killing to be "justifiable." "I discriminate between defending the justice of forceful intervention and advocating the same," he tells me.
But doesn't that encourage people to violent acts? I ask.
"When you advocate something, you are encouraging people to take a certain act. There's a difference between that and saying that a certain act cannot be condemned," he insists.
Bray is certain that he is acting in God's name, and he compares this to other humanitarian acts -- hence the choice of the White Rose as a symbol. It is a theological edifice that would make a Palestinian terrorist proud.
When I ask him about the new Bush administration, sworn in barely 24 hours earlier, he says simply it is "much better than what we had, who we would call the Abortion President." Asked whether he considers Ashcroft a friend of his movement, he replies that, "relative to Janet Reno, he's an angel."
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, between 1982 and 1998 there were 149 acts of arson and 47 abortion clinic-related bombings. The National Abortion Federation also counts six murders and 15 attempted murders in that time, plus an assortment of burglaries, kidnappings, stalkings and invasions of clinics. The last fatal shooting was of Dr. Barnett Sleppian in Buffalo, N.Y., in October 1998.
Joshua Graff, who went to prison for the 1993 bombing of a Houston clinic, is attending his first White Rose Banquet. Asked what the future of the movement is, he says people are in a regroup mode. He is neither encouraged nor discouraged by the new administration in Washington. "We are what we are," he says. "Things have not come to an end."
Matt Trewhella, on the other hand, is more encouraged, especially by the presence of Ashcroft.
"I think John Ashcroft is probably the only good man that has been appointed to a cabinet position."
Finally comes the awarding of The Order of the White Rose to activists recently released from prison or parole. This year there are four recipients, including Dennis Malvasi, who bombed four clinics in New York in the 1980s and spent six years in prison.
"My favorite [slogan] is, 'Violence never solves anything.'" Malvasi says in a distinctive New York accent. "Of course it does. It solves all kinds of problems. And good and just men have used it as a tool throughout history." A cheer goes up from the crowd.
This is followed by an auction, the proceeds of which will go to the families of people in prison for their abortion-related crimes. The hot item is a scroll of the Ten Commandments, created in calligraphy by Paul Hill. Hill is particularly popular with this group: He was convicted and sentenced to death in the 1994 killing of Dr. John Britton and a bodyguard, and the wounding of the bodyguard's wife, in Pensacola, Fla.
As the evening wears on, Bray reads from the clinic violence news of the past two years, scoffing at skeptics and applauding attempts on the lives of abortion doctors. This is followed by prayers.
"Wicked men strolling the halls of power have persecuted the defenders of the innocent and bloodied their own hands with their perverted laws," Brays reads, his voice rising. "They rise up in futile arrogance and scoff at your laws in the name of diversity and tolerance. They have no tolerance for their maker, their judge. ... We would love what you love and hate what you hate. ... They are your enemies. They are our enemies."
Then, an almost uncharacteristic note of doubt enters his prayer. "These things we pray for in confidence that we are pleasing you," Bray says. "But you know our flawed and sinful hearts. Search us, and reveal anything in us which displeases you in all we do or ask of you."
The FBI agents in the parking lot, busy checking license plates, might have been happy to respond to that request.
John Yewell is editor of the North Carolina Independent where this story first appeared.