In the fight over reproductive rights, both those on the pro-life side and the pro-choice side emerge with some blood on their hands. There are some, however, who celebrate and rejoice in the bloodshed, and seek to cause more of it to get their point across. The Army of God, an organization of anti-abortion radicals, has been linked to several terrorist acts, including the bombings of several abortion clinics as well as the murders of doctors who performed abortions.
The 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade brought out people of varying ages, backgrounds, and opinions to show their support for their side of the cause. Because of the upcoming trial of James Kopp, the man who admitted to killing Amherst doctor Barnett Slepian in his home in 1998, Buffalo had the distinction of being ground zero in the war between pro-choice demonstrators and anti-abortion extremists from the Army of God.
Not all of the demonstrations on one of Buffalo’s coldest days of the year attracted as much attention from both media and law enforcement as others. For Bonnie Behn, a pro-life activist from Last Call Ministries demonstrating outside of Main Street’s Womenservices clinic, the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was “no different from any other day except that there are a lot of police and a lot of pro-death people… We [Last Call Ministries] are out here every day that they’re killing, and that hasn’t changed for thirty years.”
Bonnie’s husband, Robert Behn, another member of Last Call Ministries from Cheektowaga, also spent Wednesday demonstrating outside of Womenservices. After explaining how he had been standing outside since 7:30 a.m. with a few breaks to warm up, he said, “I think the Kopp supporters are as pro-choice as the people at the clinic here because they think they can decide who’s going to live and who’s going to die. I don’t know why they’re not together, they both stand for the same philosophy.”
Behn then described how members of his organization were “anxious to get away” from the Kopp supporters and attend the protests in Washington, DC instead. “They didn’t want anything to do with them [Kopp supporters]. They don’t want people to associate them with us.” Bonnie added, “I don’t know why they’re having a trial, I guess he’s entitled to it. I absolutely do not agree with his supporters, but the fact that they’re here doesn’t disappoint me.”
Five years ago, Barnett Slepian was a husband, father, and successful doctor living in East Amherst. Where is he now? According to an Army of God demonstrator, “he’s burning right now, weeping and gnashing his baby-killing, blood-thirsty teeth.” The members from the Army of God who were in Buffalo believe that James Kopp is a hero, and they carried signs, yelled into microphones, and explained to anyone interested why that was.
Chuck Spingola, a soldier in the Army of God from Newark, OH said, “I think James Kopp is a hero because he did what most men are frightened to do–to stop a baby-killing mass murderer who gets paid for his craft.” Many of the signs being held by Army of God demonstrators shared that sentiment, saying “Praise Jesus and James Kopp, stop the baby killing docs,” “The cops wouldn’t, Kopp did,” and “The babies say ‘thank you,’ Jim.”
Rockford, IL’s Adrian Korian, another member of the Army of God explained his reasons for being opposed to abortion, describing it as, “the taking of an innocent human life who was not afforded due process, and yet they receive death and execution. That’s fundamentally wrong, that speaks to the very core of who we are as a people” and that’s “why Jim Kopp did what he claims to have done. What he did was protect an innocent human being, an innocent life.”
Another Army of God protester screamed at the crowd, “All good men should appreciate the deeds of Brother James Kopp… Brother Kopp withstood all the media propaganda, and he did a righteous act.” Several visitors from the Army of God described how they felt that they were perceived in the media. One told the crowd, “With God as my witness, none of this will make it on the news. I’m talking to citizens, not the news media. If there’s any good people amongst these news people, whatever is said on God’s side will be cut and put on the editor’s floor, you mark me.”
“I realize that we look like radicals because of the days we’re living in. The baby murdering is justified, and it’s legal. So Barnett Slepian, when he takes his $300 to kill a baby, it’s called healthcare. We’re not buying that lie. We know what it is, it’s killing a baby,” Spingola explained.
Many question how it’s possible that the Army of God can be considered pro-life when they advocate killing doctors like Barnett Slepian. John Curr, assistant director of the Western Regional Office for the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) said, “In this particular case, it’s very funny that they proclaim to be pro-life when they advocate the violence that’s killed a doctor. They label him as an abortion doctor when he also brought many more lives into this world,” adding that his sister had worked for Slepian in the past.
James Lokey, an Army of God spokesperson who said, “I am the Army of God,” was featured in the HBO documentary, “Soldiers in the Army of God.” Lokey explained his thoughts on the term “pro-life” by describing himself as “one of the staunchest supporters of violence to protect babies” and saying, “I’m not pro-life, I’ve never been pro-life. I’m pro-God, and God is pro-creation. I think the opposition invented that word because what it does is cripples people… If you’re pro-life, you shouldn’t even squash a bug,” before the Army of God crowd started chanting, “Acquit James Kopp!”
Taking a break from his megaphone, Spingola explained his feelings on being pro-life by saying, “If you were my daughter, and someone came in the house to harm you and was raping you, choking you, I’d pull my pistol and blow his brains out. It’s easy, [I’d do it] because I love you. I love my child. It’s real easy. They can’t connect the dots. Love demands action.”
In addition to being anti-abortion, the Army of God is also anti-Muslim and anti-homosexual. Their website (www.armyofgod.com) has a link to “The Allah News,” which has links to stories about Muslims kidnapping Christians and participating in terrorism, frequently with the tag line “Only the Lord Jesus Christ can save you from eternal hell fire.” At Wednesday’s rally, demonstrators were privy to the anti-homosexual expressions of the Army of God members who yelled, “Sodomites in the public schools are trying to make sissies out of your boys and girls under the guise of diversity” and “The people over there (pointing at the counter demonstration) have a love affair with the rectum!”
Bruce Barket, James Kopp’s attorney, was on hand at the demonstration and was pleased by the turnout from the Army of God. “They’ve come to support Jim. They’ve come to offer Jim some comfort and visit with him, offer him some companionship… They’ve come a long way to visit him, and they’ve traveled at their own expense and it’s a good thing that they’ve done.” As for his client’s guilt, Barket said, “It’s going to be decided in court, whether or not what he did was murder or some other type of homicide. That’s for the jury to determine.”
Despite hopes for a fair, unbiased trial, Kopp’s and the Army of God’s trial by counter demonstration was an overwhelming victory for the opposition. With easily triple the protesters on the anti-Army of God side, Curr from the NYCLU said, “Look how big a turnout they had. On one of the coldest days of the year, we’ve got more people out on a working day that they were able to bring in their planned assault. This is laughable.”
Women and men alike chanted, “Keep your dicks out of my rights,” “Keep your hate out of our city,” and “Army of God, army of fraud!” Courteney, a pro-choice student said, “These people have kind of invaded our community with their presence and their message. I feel like it’s my responsibility to come out and voice my opposition to it. If they’re going to make sure that their message is heard with whatever violent means, I’d like to at least make sure that my stance is known too.”
Other demonstrators were concerned about the possibility of violence. Kate Elliott, a senior history major at UB said, “We basically came out here today because we want to send the Army of God a message. One, they’re not welcome here. Two, their violence is unacceptable. And three, we will not be intimidated by them,” before chanting “bigots go home!” with the rest of the anti-Army of God crowd.
Jeanne Noel-Mahoney, director of the Western Regional office of the NYCLU said, “Normally, at demonstrations like this, we are out here with volunteers as legal observers to make sure that everyone’s rights are honored. In a case like this, we know that these people would not think twice about violating other people’s rights so we’re really more concerned about any potential violence… We just hope to end the day without any violence, without anybody getting hurt.”
Curr added, “There’s been so many times in the past where we’ve defended people who want to have a rally when they’re not allowed to… But under this particular case, this isn’t about abortion, this isn’t about the right to protest, this is about the community coming together to speak out against a group that advocates violence, and they’re absolutely horrible.”
The notion that the Army of God uses violence to achieve their means and takes the law into their own hands was not lost upon this audience. Shel, a pro-choice demonstrator said “I think that their [the Army of God] means are completely unsuccessful. They’re using terror as a means to meet their end.” John Curr described how one of the functions of society is to be able to take care of an individual’s grievances with it by saying, “We have a means to address every grievance in our society. We have a means to address them through how we vote, through groups that we work with, how we lobby, how we act, but when any group takes the law into their own hands in furtherance of their objectives, it’s immoral and wrong.”
The Army of God will likely be marching back to Buffalo in February for the beginning of James Kopp’s trial, and another demonstration will likely follow. Whether or not that will be as peaceful remains to be seen.