This week in terrorism history: Nov. 1-6

The Rev. Michael Bray, Army of God (Copyright Jenny Warburg)

The Global Terrorist Database records the first terrorist attack against an American abortion clinic, abortion provider, or other abortion-related target as coming at the beginning of November, 1977. By the end of 2018, there had been a total of 256 such attacks.

For this today’s look back at the week in US terrorism history, I’m departing from the pattern I’ve adopted this year in which I report on attacks occurring during a single randomly chosen week between 1970 and 2000. Instead, I’m going to focus anti-abortion terrorism.

And it turns out the first week of November has historically been an active time for attacks on abortion-related targets. I’ll provide details on seven such incidents below. But before I do, I want to make a couple of points here.

As I’ve mentioned before, I bring this regular feature of the blog back whenever I teach my course on terrorism and political violence. This week’s look back fits especially well with both the purposes of the course, and specifically what I’m going to be talking about in the classroom tonight.

Generally when I teach my terrorism class I have two overarching objectives:

  • I want to challenge my students’ preconceived ideas about who terrorists are and why terrorism occurs.
  • I want my students to understand that terrorism is a tactic that may be employed in pursuit of social or political goals that they themselves support or for causes they sympathize with.

Focusing on the violent anti-abortion movement serves both of these objectives. First, by making it crystal clear that not all religiously motivated terrorists are Muslims. Just as Islamist terrorists draw on their own idiosyncratic interpretation of holy scripture and teachings, and have clerics who offer religious justification for their violence, so to do Christian anti-abortion terrorists. Second, by demonstrating to staunchly anti-abortion students that there are those who are willing to kill in the name of a “pro-life” agenda that they themselves support.

The Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization, is an excellent example of what I’m talking about. This group, according to the GTD, carried out 26 attacks between 1982 and 1998, including assassinations of abortion providers, and bombings and arson attacks against clinics and health centers. Two of its leading figures were ordained ministers. Paul Hill, a Presbyterian minister, was executed in 2003 for the assassinations of an abortion provider and a clinic escort. Michael Bray, a Lutheran minister, was convicted in 1985 in connection with a series of bombings of abortion facilities in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The current spokesman for the Army of God, Donald Spitz, is an ordained evangelical minister. He maintains the organization’s website.

Now on to this week’s look back.

  • Nov. 1, 1977 — Cincinnati, Ohio: Anti-abortion extremists set fire to the Cincinnati Planned Parenthood clinic housed at Christ Church. No one was injured in the attack.
  • Nov. 3, 1984 — Washington, D.C.: Three members of the Christian anti-abortion terrorist group the Army of God, including the Rev. Michael Bray mentioned above, bomb the offices of the American Civil Liberties Union. There were no casualties. Four months earlier, the same three perpetrators bombed the offices of the National Abortion Federation, down the street from the ACLU office.
  • Nov. 2, 1990 — Fort Wayne, IN: Anti-abortion extremists firebomb the Fort Wayne Women’s Health Organization, an abortion clinic. There were no casualties, but the clinic was forced to close down due to the damage inflicted in the attack.
  • Nov. 2. 1992 — Westmont, Ill.: Anti-abortion extremists set fire to the Concord Medical Clinic. Heavy rains extinguished the blaze before significant damage occurred. Investigators subsequently discovered a large puddle of gasoline inside the clinic, which had been the scene of months of protests prior to the arson attack.
  • Nov. 3, 1994 — San Rafael, CA: Anti-abortion extremists bomb a Planned Parenthood clinic. There were no injuries and the building sustained minor damage.
  • Nov. 2, 1995 — Pensacola, FL: The All Women’s Health Center is hit with an arson attack. There were no injuries. Pensacola was an epicenter of anti-abortion terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1994 assassination of an abortion provider and clinic escort by the Rev. Paul Hill, and multiple clinic bombings.
  • Nov. 1, 1996 — Hannibal, MO: Anti-abortion extremists firebomb a family planning clinic. No one is injured in the attack.