If This Isn’t a Threat, What Is?

The following appeared in the Feminist Majority Foundation‘s Feminist News for April 21, 2011. If you’d like to receive these news digests as well as lists of feminist jobs, sign up here.

Wichita Judge fails to issue Preliminary Injunction against Anti-Abortion Activist

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten refused to grant an order sought by the Department of Justice against an anti-abortion activist for sending a threatening letter to Dr. Mila Means, the Kansas doctor who plans to offer abortion services in Wichita. Dr. Means has been the target of anti-abortion protests and harassment since she began training to provide abortion services in December.

“We are dismayed by the Judge’s decision,” said Katherine Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “However, anti-abortion extremists have been put on notice: every threat against abortion providers will be investigated and challenged,” Spillar continued. “Rigorous prosecution of extremists who are advocating and using violence is the only way to stop this domestic terrorism.”

The Justice Department had accused Angel Dillard of violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), a law protecting abortion clinics, and asked that Dillard be prohibited from contacting Means or coming within 250 feet of her home and her office. Dr. Means testified in court that she felt threatened by the letter, and had undertaken numerous security measures in response. Although Judge Marten said that Dillard clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Means, he did not believe the letter constituted a “true threat” prohibited under FACE. [Italics mine.]

Dillard has been associated with anti-abortion groups in Kansas. In an interview with the Associated Press in July 2009, Dillard revealed she had corresponded with Scott Roeder, then in a Wichita jail awaiting trial for the murder of Dr. Tiller. Dillard told AP “With one move, (Roeder) was able…to accomplish what we had not been able to do…So he followed his convictions and I admire that.”

In her letter to Dr. Means, Dillard wrote among other things: “You will be checking under your car everyday – because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” Later in the letter, Dillard added: “We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.”

Abortion services have not been available to women in Wichita since Dr. George Tiller’s murder in May 2009. The Feminist Majority Foundation, which conducts the oldest and largest national clinic defense project in the nation, had worked with Dr. Tiller and is assisting Dr. Means and other besieged clinics in some 14 states.

Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation; Associated Press

The following is the text from the April 21st Rachel Maddow Show about this development:

MADDOW:  On February 23rd on this program, we reported on a death threat—a death threat that had been sent to the doctor in south central Kansas who was trying to become the first abortion provider in that part of the country since Dr. George Tiller was murdered by an anti-abortion extremist in 2009.

This death threat said in part, quote, “If Dr. Tiller could speak from hell, he would tell you what a soulless existence you are purposefully considering all in the name of greed.  Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita but from all over the U.S.  They will know your habits and routines.  They know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live.

You will be checking under your car every day because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.  We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.”

After that death threat became public, the federal Department of Justice announced two weeks ago that they have filed a civil complaint against the woman who wrote the threat and sent it to the doctor.  The first step legally was that Justice Department lawyers asked the federal judge for a preliminary order to keep the woman who sent the threat away from the doctor she threatened—to keep a physical distance between them.

The hearing on that request just happened this week.  I‘ll tell you what was decided at the hearing in just one moment.  But one of the amazing things about the radical and violent—or at least pro-violence anti-abortion movement ending up back in court again because of another threat to another doctor is that them being in court has the effect of shining a light on who they are.  And in this specific case, it has shined a light on the connections between these people, this network of people, who commit politically motivated murder or who attempt to do that, or who promote doing that.

It really is a movement.  These folks know each other.  They are not alone.

And here‘s how that looks this week, with this federal court case.  The anti-abortion activist accused of writing the threatening letter is named Angel Dillard.  Ms. Dillard has not denied writing the letter.  Angel Dillard‘s attorney in this hearing was a man named Donald McKinney.  It‘s him on the left outside the courthouse with Angel Dillard yesterday.

Don McKinney participated in the Summer of Mercy protests against Dr.  Tiller in 1991.  Do you remember Kansas‘s radical anti-abortion attorney general Phill Kline?  Phill Kline is currently in the midst of ethics proceedings that could result in his disbarment over the way he pursued charges against Dr. Tiller.  We went to Kansas to cover that earlier this year, you might remember.

As one of Phill Kline‘s final and most controversial acts as attorney general, he hired the same lawyer, Don McKinney, to be a special prosecutor specifically to go after Tiller.  The same doctor who that lawyer had protested against back in the day.

Mr. McKinney, again that‘s him on the left there, Mr. McKinney was controversial not just for having protested against Dr. Tiller at the Summer of Mercy—he was controversial and it was a controversial thing for Phill Kline to make him a special prosecutor because McKinney has hosted as a house guest on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of those protests a member of the Army of God—this man.  Someone who had signed the defensive action statements put out by the Army of God, the statements that demand the murder of abortion providers and declare them morally justified.

You can still see those “Kill a Doctor for Christ” manifestos online in the dark corners of the abortion Internet where all the people who have murdered doctors have tribute pages to them and are celebrated as heroes.  Here‘s one for Paul Hill.

The first time that somebody shot and tried to kill Dr. Tiller in 1993, the assailant was Shelley Shannon.  Shelley Shannon was almost a member of the Army of God.  The Army of God guy we showed you earlier was linked to the lawyer in this current case, he specifically praised Shelley Shannon and her attempt on Dr. Tiller‘s life.  He called her a hero.

Well, Shelley Shannon was in prison for shooting and trying to kill Dr. Tiller.  One of her frequent prison visitors was Scott Roeder.  During the time that Scott Roeder was visiting Shelley Shannon in prison, he too came to think of himself as a member of the Army of God, and it was Scott Roeder, who after stacking (ph) Dr. Tiller and gluing the doors of another clinic shut and after protesting against Dr. Tiller and against abortion for years, and after corresponding frequently with the woman who worked at Operation Rescue in Kansas who had once been convicted of conspiring to bomb a clinic, it was Scott Roeder, Army of God, right—Scott Roeder who finally did what the army of god urges people to do and calls justified.  Scott Roeder in 2009 finally killed Dr. Tiller, shot him to death in Dr. Tiller’s church.

And even though I knew all of that before and I still do occasionally sleep, although it doesn‘t always look like it, here‘s the reason I did not sleep last night—since Scott Roeder has been imprisoned for murdering Dr. Tiller, someone who has contacted him enough to have struck up a jailhouse friendship with him is the author of our death threat, Angel Dillard.

After Dr. Tiller‘s murder, Angel Diller said this to the “Associated Press” about Scott Roeder and what he did.  Quote, “Quite honestly, as soon as I heard about it, I realized that he was able to accomplish what those of us in the pro-life movement had not been able to accomplish—we put millions of man hours in, protested, millions of dollars, attempts at legislation, and we were butting our heads up against the wall.  We were not getting anywhere.

With one move—meaning the murder Roeder was able to accomplish what we had not been able to do.  So, he followed his convictions and I admire that.”

So, while Shelley Shannon is in jail for trying to kill Dr. Tiller, Scott Roeder makes friends with her and ultimately decides she was on to something.  Eventually, he goes on to murder Dr. Tiller himself.  Then, when Scott Roeder is in prison for that, for succeeding in killing Dr.  Tiller, Angel Dillard makes friends with him in jail, and she says she admires what Roeder did in murdering a doctor for providing abortions.

And then she sends a letter to the new doctor who would take Dr.  Tiller‘s place, as south central Kansas‘s next abortion provider.  She sends a letter that directly references Dr. Tiller who has already been killed and tells the new doctor, “someone will put a bomb under your car one day,” and then goes on to say, “We will not let this abomination continue without doing everything we can to stop it.”

So, when lawyers for the Justice Department asked a federal judge in Wichita this week to issue a preliminary order to keep this woman who wrote this threat away from this doctor, this woman who befriended Dr. Tiller‘s murderer and said she admired him for doing it, and then she wrote to the doctor who would replace Dr. Tiller saying there would be explosives under his car someday, the judge said no.  The judge said, and I quote, “I don‘t think this letter constitutes a true threat.”

Joining us now is Kathryn Spillar, with the Feminist Majority Foundation.

Ms. Spillar, thank you very much for joining us.  I appreciate your time.


MADDOW:  I know that you know the facts of this case very well.  Is anything that I said about that strike you as confused or wrong, or did I lay it out in the way that you understand it?

SPILLAR:  I think you laid it out perfectly—perfectly—which is why the judge‘s decision yesterday in this case is so baffling to us.  It was such a clear violation of FACE, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, to have made this threat.  And yet, the judge did not see it as a true threat.

MADDOW:  The woman who wrote this death threat, her attorney argued at the hearing that it wasn‘t directly a threat that Angel Dillard would kill the doctor.  He described it as a warning to the doctor that other people might kill her.  “A,” does that make sense to you, and, “B,” how would something like that be handled under the FACE law, the federal law, that applies here?

SPILLAR:  Well, in fact, she used the word “we.”  We will not tolerate this abomination.  We will do everything feasible to stop you.

So, clearly, she put herself in that camp.  And the way that you evaluate a true threat under FACE is very clear.  Congress laid it out very succinctly.  It is how the threat is perceived by the person who receives the threat.

Is the language clear in the threat?  And, Rachel, you have read parts of the letter.  I think anyone would reasonably understand what was meant by those words—about a bomb under a car, about we know where you live.

The second part of that is the context in which the letter was received or the threat was made.  And clearly, in Wichita, the context is very certain.  Dr. Tiller was murdered less than two years ago, by many—by an individual who this person has been in touch with, at the network of extremists has said that we‘re going to keep Wichita abortion free, and they clearly are willing to use a bullet to do that.

But it‘s interesting.  Under the FACE law, this context is very important, but the Department of Justice doesn‘t even have to prove that this individual has the ability to carry out the threat.  It is simply that the threat was made with the intent of intimidating Dr. Means.  And Dr.  Means was clearly intimidated by this threat.

MADDOW:  This was a preliminary decision by this judge.  We do not know how this judge is going to rule in this case ultimately.  We don‘t know how this case is going to play out.

But, broadly speaking, as somebody who‘s been involved in this field are a long time and studied a lot of the radical edge of this movement, how important do you think it is for the Department of Justice to have brought this case?

SPILLAR:  Oh, it‘s critically important.  The extremists must know that their every action is being scrutinized, and that when the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney believe that a threat has been made or an illegal act has been committed, that they will be prosecuted to the extent of the law.  We‘re very hopeful, obviously, that this decision will ultimately be repealed or that in the further hearings for a permanent injunction, that a permanent injunction will indeed be issued.

There‘s just no question.  Even in the judge‘s mind, he said that Dillard clearly meant to intimidate Dr. Means.

So, we applaud the Department of Justice for taking these cases.  We think that ultimately they will prevail and that indeed these kinds of threes won‘t be tolerated.

What worries us, Rachel, is that in the interim, the extremists will look at this decision and be emboldened by it, and will get even more extreme in some of the threats that they‘re making.  And doctors everywhere across this country already are facing intolerable levels of threats and violence.

So, we do hope that on further hearing, that we‘ll reach a different decision.

MADDOW:  Kathy, to that point, I mentioned this in the introduction, what made me not sleep about this is feeling like I am seeing a pattern here.  It feels like there is a scary pattern here.  And I know that Feminist Majority Foundation does a lot of work studying, as I said, the sort of violent edge of the radical anti-abortion movement.

Is this the pattern that you see among people who are moved ultimately beyond extremism to violent extremism?  That they get in touch with people who have committed violent acts, that they lionize that acts, that they start to think of themselves as part of a movement that promotes violence?

SPILLAR:  There has not been a single murder of a doctor in this country by an individual who was a lone wolf.  In every single case, the person who actually committed the murder has been an active participant in a network of extremists who promote the murder of doctors, who advocate the murder of doctors, who many of them themselves have committed violence.

And the interesting thing too, Rachel, is that many of those who go on to murder start with threats.  Or they start with gluing the locks of clinics, or they start with simple acts of vandalism.  And so, the importance of going immediately and challenging a threat, to interrupt this pattern of ultimately leading to violence is what is so critical about the Department of Justice action.

MADDOW:  Kathryn Spillar, executive vice president of the Feminist Majority Foundation—thank you very much for helping us to understand this tonight.  I really appreciate it.

SPILLAR:  Thank you.