A Call to Arms for 'Christian Terrorists'

An anti-abortion activist, calling for a new wave of violence against clinics and doctors, is following the example of violent Islamic fundamentalists, telling those who share his views to become "Christian terrorists" and promising them a reward in Heaven.

"As cream rising to the top of the milk, so the Christian terrorist rises above the huddled masses of churchgoers and the many voices which denounce their violent attempts to defend the innocent from they're [sic] murderous assailants," Chuck Spingola wrote in a posting on the Army of God Web site.

"Regarding abortion the separation is clear. The CT [Christian terrorist] has the Word of God and a testimony of loving, albeit terrifying [to the wicked], actions," he said.

Spingola declined to discuss the statement with ABCNews.com without stipulations, but said he stood by the posting.

There is some question among academics and others who follow extremist movements in the United States about how seriously to take the rhetoric, particularly because none believe that such views are shared by more than, at most, a few hundred people.

"The hard-liners have become more and more hard-line, and I think they've lost most of their appeal even with the Christian right, which might share some of their views," said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors extremist movements.

It is not a view likely to be shared by more than a handful of the thousands expected to march today in Washington in the March for Life, an annual protest on the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal nationwide.

Mainstream anti-abortion groups such as the National Right to Life Committee have praised the arrests and convictions of people involved in violence against abortion providers and released a statement that the group "strongly opposes any use of violence as a means of stopping the violence that has killed more than 43 million unborn children since 1973."

Spingola's language is shocking, particularly when he seems to express solidarity with people such as members of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

"One might ask what do the Muslims and Christians have in common? The Holy Bible and Koran both condemn baby murder and homosexuality as capital crimes," he wrote. "The radical elements of both religions are willing to do more than talk to resist the societal promotion of both these capital crimes.

"The foreign terrorists (Muslim) resist the imposition of the United States/United Nations charter, which promotes 'population control' (abortion) and 'diversity' (homosexuality), while the Christian/domestic terrorist simply resists the 'law' of the land, which promotes and often subsidizes abortion and homosexuality," he continued.

Extreme violence against abortion providers has dropped sharply over the last two years, though there has been no decline in the harassment of doctors and staff at clinics and women visiting clinics, according to the National Abortion Foundation.

The movement has been hit hard over the last two years by a series of arrests and trials of some of its most notorious adherents, and some who follow extremists say the "Christian terrorist" rhetoric is an attempt to rally new radicals to take the place of people such as Clayton Waagner, Paul Hill, James Kopp and Eric Rudolph.

Waagner was convicted of threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction for mailing letters containing what appeared to be anthrax to dozens of abortion clinics. Kopp was convicted of the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian, who performed abortions in Buffalo, N.Y. Rudolph, the suspect in bombings at a Birmingham, Ala., abortion clinic and at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, is awaiting trial.

Hill was executed in Florida for the 1994 murders of an abortion provider and his bodyguard.

A Chilling Effect

The Rev. Donald Spitz, who runs the Army of God Web site and describes Spingola as a good friend, said he has received little response from the posting, but he says that's normal. He said he believes there are "between 200 and 300" people who might share Spingola's views.

"But there's probably a lot of sympathizers," he said. "I think it's growing quite a bit."

That's not quite the view of those who monitor extremist movements. They say that the level of violence, along with the high-profile arrests and trials and the execution of Hill in September, have had a chilling effect on support for the radical fringe, even among abortion's staunchest foes.

Numbers may not be necessary to turn belief into action, though, as has been demonstrated for nearly a decade by people claiming allegiance to environmental and animal-rights extremist groups such as the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front. ELF claimed responsibility for nearly $60 million worth of property damage in 2003 alone, and it has been active since the mid-1990s.

These groups, with their independent "cells" bound only by a common purpose and a commitment to "direct action," may also be operating models for the anti-abortion extreme, according to some experts.

"What we have here is the leaderless resistance model, people communicate with each other but they're not organized," said Dallas Blanchard, a retired sociology professor who has written extensively on the anti-abortion movement, including "The Anti-Abortion Movement" and "The Rise of the Religious Right."

"I think those movements, while they don't necessarily talk to one another, they learn from one another," he said.

A Nonexistent Army

Like ELF and ALF, the Army of God has no organizational structure, but rather it is a name that has been invoked to make attacks seem more related, and to make the threat seem greater.

"The Army of God does not actually exist in any conventional sense," said Dan Levitas, the author of "The Terrorist Next Door." "It's a name that has been used by numerous anti-abortion activists to gain visibility and credibility for their actions. For a long time now many anti-abortion activists have resorted to lone-wolf actions to get away with their criminal activities."

Spitz did not dispute that description of the Army of God.

"We really don't have any organization," he said. The use of informants by law enforcement to infiltrate the movement has made any level of organization dangerous to anybody who might be planning violence against a clinic, he said.

The use of the term terrorist has been taken as a badge of honor by anti-abortion activists since at least June 2001, when Waagner, who was in hiding after escaping from prison, used the word to describe himself in a Web posting.

"The government of the most powerful country in the world considers me a terrorist," Waagner wrote. "That label set me aback at first. Then it struck me: They're right. I am a terrorist. To be sure, I'm a terrorist to a very narrow group of people, but a terrorist just the same. As a terrorist to the abortionist, what I need to do is envoke [sic] terror. Thus the reason I'm posting this letter. I wish to warn them that I'm coming."

Though Waagner, who took advantage of his freedom to send letters containing what appeared to be anthrax to dozens of abortion clinics in the fall of 2001, did not use the term "Christian terrorist," he did make clear that he believed he was on a mission from God.

"God did not rescue me from life in prison for my pleasure," he wrote. "He freed me that I might lay down my life for His will. He freed me to make war on His enemy. He freed me to make war on those who profit from the merciless murder of His children. And a war it shall be."

For Spingola and others among the extreme of the anti-abortion movement, that mission from God extends to other issues, such as opposition to homosexuality and to the kind of society that can allow both.

Common Enemies

As with Islamic fundamentalists, these extremists see liberal Western society — and sometime even democracy — as evil, said Eugene Gallagher, a University of Connecticut religion professor who is the author of "Religious Movements in the U.S." and "Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America."

"Liberal society gets identified with permissiveness and especially sexual permissiveness by both the conservative-to-radical Muslims and the conservative-to-radical Christians," Gallagher said. "So the common enemy is liberal society and the inevitable freedom of choice in a liberal society. Authority is in the individual instead of in God, which is where they believe it should be."

But for Christians who believe terrorism is against the tenets of their faith, Spingola's call to arms may come as a shock.

"Sadly, religious texts from all traditions have been used repeatedly to to justify the most egregious acts of violence, and the Bible is no exception," Levitas said.