|FROM THE ISSUE | SPRING 2010
Scott Roeder is now serving a life term for murdering
abortion doctor George Tiller. But did he really act alone?
By AMANDA ROBB
AS SOON AS SCOTT ROEDER WAS NAMED THE SOLE SUSPECT IN THE
point-blank shooting death of Wichita, Kan., abortion provider Dr. George
Tiller in the vestibule of the Reformation Lutheran Church Tiller attended, a
predictable story began to be told. Following the lead of a recent Department
of Homeland Security report characterizing right-wing terrorists as lone wolves,
the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, NBC and FOX News all ran stories calling
Roeder a “lone wolf” gunman.
It is the oldest, possibly most dangerous abortion story out there.
August 13, 1994, The Washington Post: “Many anti-abortion leaders have…
denounced Paul Hill [who killed abortion provider Dr. John Britton and his security
escort James Barrett]…as a lone, sick extremist.”
October 26, 1998, The Independent (London): “A doctor defiant [is] shot dead for
his beliefs by a lone abortion terrorist [referring to James Kopp, who killed Amherst,
N.Y., abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian].”
But for loners, these guys have a lot of friends. A lot of the same ones, in fact.
Over the past six months, I have interviewed Scott Roeder more than a
dozen times, met several times with his supporters at the Sedgwick County
Courthouse in Wichita where he was tried and convicted, and permissibly
recorded numerous three-way telephone conversations Roeder had me place
to his friends. Using information gleaned from these sources, along with public
records, it is possible to piece together the close, long-term and ongoing relationship
between Roeder and other anti-abortion extremists who advocate
murder and violent attacks on abortion providers.
Now, meet Roeder’s anti-abortion associates, beginning with Roeder himself.
Scott Roeder, 52, was born in Denver. His family moved to Topeka, Kan., when
he was a toddler. He worked for the Kansas City electric company, and at age 28,
he married and had a son. For about five years family life was stable, but then in
the early 1990s Roeder suddenly could not cope—with anything.
While under financial stress in 1992, Roeder happened upon right-wing televangelist
Pat Robertson’s 700 Club on television. He claims he fell to his knees
and became a born-again Christian. According to his own recollections and
those of his ex-wife, he immediately fixated on what he considered two earthly
evils: taxes and abortion.
In very short order, he affiliated himself with Christian anti-government
groups such as the Freemen militia and eventually became involved with antiabortion
groups such as Operation Rescue and the Army of God, the latter of which openly sanctions the use of violence
to stop abortion.
Roeder told me that his first act as an
anti-abortion activist was to protest
outside a Kansas City women’s clinic.
Among the protestors he came to know
were Anthony Leake, a proponent of
the “justifiable homicide”of abortion
doctors, and Eugene Frye, the owner
of a Kansas City construction company
who, together with another antiabortion
activist, had been arrested in
1990 for attempting to reinsert the
feeding tube of a Missouri woman in a
persistent vegetative state. Frye had
also been arrested for blockading abortion
clinics during the 1991 Summer of
Mercy in Wichita, which was organized
by Operation Rescue.
Through Frye, Roeder says, he
soon met Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon.
She, like Frye, had attended the
Summer of Mercy protests; over the
next two years she would commit
eight arson or acid attacks on abortion
clinics in the Pacific Northwest.
Then, most horrifically, on August
19, 1993, she would try to murder Dr.
George Tiller, succeeding only in
shooting and wounding him in both
Roeder says Frye took him to visit
Shannon where she was incarcerated
in Topeka. Roeder was instantly smitten
with the intense, unrepentant
shooter. Frye had made a match.
Roeder began visiting Shannon
without Frye: Over the years, while
she served her 30-year-long sentence
for the clinic attacks and the attemptedmurder, Roeder would see her some 25 times. As his marriage
began disintegrating, he even considered asking the
raven-haired Shannon about beginning a romance. But,
he told me, he did not because of the obvious obstacles involved
in dating an incarcerated woman.
Still, Roeder and Shannon stayed close—and he began
contemplating killing Dr. Tiller himself. Maybe it
would be a car crash; maybe he’d shoot him sniper-style
from a rooftop near Tiller’s clinic. Or maybe he would
just cut off Dr. Tiller’s hands with a sword. Roeder testified
to all of these at his trial.
While protesting at a Kansas City abortion clinic,
Roeder also met Regina Dinwiddie, who had been arrested
along with Frye during Operation Rescue’s 1991 Summer
of Mercy in Wichita. A nurse from Kansas City, she was
the first person to face a civil restraining order under the
Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act because,
according to the complaint, she would not stop screaming
threats at abortion clinic patients and personnel. The clinic
director said Dinwiddie once told her, “Patty, you have not
seen violence yet until you see what we do to you!”
Dinwiddie, an admitted member of the violencepromoting
Army of God, was also arrested at Operation
Rescue’s 1988 Siege of Atlanta. Authorities housed the
anti-abortion activists in a separate unit—which became a
terrorist seedbed. Also arrested and incarcerated along
with Dinwiddie were Shannon, Jayne Bray and James
Kopp. Bray is the wife of Michael Bray, the so-called lifetime
chaplain of the Army of God, who was, at that time,
incarcerated elsewhere for a series of clinic bomb attacks.
Kopp went on to murder New York abortion provider Dr.
Barnett Slepian in a sniper attack in 1998 at Slepian’s
home, and is the lead suspect in the shooting and wounding
of four abortion providers at their homes in upstate
New York and Canada between 1994 and 1997.
It is widely believed some of those jailed in Atlanta in
1988 were involved in the creation of “The Army of God
Manual,” in which they receive “special thanks” under
monikers such as “Shaggy West” (Shelley Shannon), “Atomic Dog” (James Kopp), “Kansas City Big Guys,” the “Mad Gluer” and “Pensacola Cop Hugger,” among others.
The how-to manual for would-be terrorists provides
instructions on vandalizing clinics, including arson,
super-gluing locks, constructing bombs and “disarming
the persons perpetrating the [abortions] by removing
their hands.” The manual was discovered buried in
Shannon’s backyard during a search by law enforcement
following her attempted murder of Dr. Tiller in 1993.
Back in 1994, Dinwiddie had enjoyed special fame in
anti-abortion circles because Paul Hill had stayed at
her house two weeks before he shot and killed Dr. John
Britton and his volunteer escort James Barrett outside an
abortion clinic in Pensacola, Fla. Shortly after that double
murder, Scott Roeder enters our story again: He is invited
to Dinwiddie’s along with Frye to meet a special guest,
Bray is a linchpin among the extremists; his influence
over those who commit abortion-related violence is hard to
overstate. Author of A Time to Kill—a theological justification
for violence—Bray is a convicted clinic bomber (he
served from 1985 to 1989 for his crimes). He helped draft
and was the first to sign the “Defensive Action” statement
endorsing the murder of abortion providers that Hill began
circulating in the months before he killed Britton and
Barrett. Shannon says she was moved to violence by reading
Bray’s writings; according to her diary, when an early arson
attempt failed to produce much damage, she wrote to him
in despair, and Bray reassured her, “Little strokes fell
mighty oaks.” James Kopp first met Bray in 1983 at an
extremist religious retreat in Switzerland and, according to
law enforcement sources, stopped at Bray’s home in 1998 as
he was fleeing the country after murdering Dr. Slepian.
Bray has obviously privately supported violence as a
means to stop abortion since the mid-1980s, but by 1991,
he and his wife Jayne were open enough to discuss his
views with a reporter from The Washington Post.
“Is there a legitimate use of force on behalf of the unborn?”
Bray asks rhetorically. “I say yes, it is justified to
destroy the [abortion] facilities. And yes, it is justified to…
what kind of word should I use here?”
“Well, they use ‘terminate a pregnancy,’” Jayne Bray
“Yeah, terminate an abortionist,” he says.
When Scott Roeder arrived at Regina Dinwiddie’s house
with Eugene Frye in 1994 or 1995 to meet Michael Bray,
he was nearly giddy, by his own recollection to me:
Roeder: I think it was right after Paul Hill…I got to
meet [Bray] and I heard that he’d been on 60 Minutes. …I just kept asking Mike [Bray] questions because I
was so fascinated with him, you know…As a matter of
fact, Gene [Frye] had to tell me to quit asking him
Amanda Robb: [But] did you
guys discuss justifiable homicide?
If it was justifiable to shoot
Roeder: Oh yeah, yeah. We definitely
discussed that, and like I
say, Michael [Bray], he’s been
outspoken, and he’s always said,
as long as I’ve known him, he’s
always said it’s been justified to
Another admitted Army of God
member that Roeder has become
close to is Jennifer McCoy. In 1996,
she was arrested and pled guilty to
conspiring to burn down abortion
clinics in Norfolk and Newport
News, Va. During her two and a half
years in prison, she was in contact
with Bray, who honored her in absentia
at the White Rose Banquet in
Washington, D.C.—an annual event
organized by Bray to recognize those
jailed for their (mostly violent)
antiabortion activities, and attended
by many in the extremist network
(including McCoy in 1996).
After her release, McCoy began
protesting regularly with Operation
Rescue in Wichita shortly after its
president, Troy Newman, moved the
headquarters there in 2002 for the
sole purpose of tormenting Dr. Tiller
into shuttering his clinic.
As Roeder’s conversations with me
have indicated, McCoy has been
among his most regular visitors since
he was arraigned for Dr. Tiller’s murder,
although according to Roeder,
they did not know each other before
May 2009. But McCoy is close to
people Roeder is connected to, people
Roeder could try to implicate as
co-conspirators and/or accessories,
such as Bray or Newman, the latter of
whom extremely angered Roeder by
denying their acquaintance.
Perhaps this is why McCoy has been
more than a supporter; she has been a
flatterer and even a fabulist. At one
point, according to Roeder, McCoy
told him that a 17-year-old woman in Wichita was scheduled to have an abortion but after Dr. Tiller’s murder changed
her mind and had the baby. Roeder believed that young woman would testify in
court on behalf of his defense that the murder was justified to save lives. But there
is no evidence that any woman who was planning to abort her pregnancy before
Dr. Tiller was killed changed her mind afterwards.
In April 1996, Roeder was pulled over by Shawnee County, Kan., deputies
for driving without a valid license plate. Instead, Roeder had a tag on his
car that read, “Sovereign private property. Immunity declared by law. Noncommercial
American.” The kind of plates frequently used by Freemen. And
in his trunk he had gunpowder, ammunition and bomb-making materials.
Roeder was sentenced to 24 months probation and ordered to stop his association
with violence-advocating anti-government groups. He told his son, then
9 years old, that everyone assumed he was going to bomb a federal building
(his arrest occurred near the first anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.)
But really, Roeder said, he had been planning to bomb an abortion clinic.
After his probation ended, Roeder resumed his anti-abortion activities; in
2000 he was caught on surveillance cameras on two occasions super-gluing the
locks at the Kansas City clinic where he frequently protested with Frye. The
clinic’s manager says he reported the incidents to an FBI agent who said he
would question Roeder. After that, Roeder disappeared for a while. He would
be caught on camera again gluing the clinic’s locks both the week before and the
day before he murdered Dr. Tiller in Wichita.
Roeder first stalked Tiller at his Wichita church, Reformation Lutheran, in
2002, the year Operation Rescue moved there. Operation Rescue had already
begun demonstrating at the church, and on the group’s website Newman had
announced plans to gather at Tiller’s clinic, church and home.
Also that year, Roeder says he went to lunch with Newman and asked him
about using violence to stop abortion.
Robb: What did you say to him?
Roeder: Oh, something like if an abortionist—I don’t even know if it was
specifically Tiller…was shot, would it be justified? … And [Newman]
said, “If it were, it wouldn’t upset me.”
According to Roeder’s trial testimony, he became an active and regular participant
in Operation Rescue events. He told me he has donation receipts, event
T-shirts and a signed copy of Newman’s 2001 book, Their Blood Cries Out, to
prove it. During an Operation Rescue event at Dr. Tiller’s clinic in 2007, Roeder posted on the Operation Rescue website:
“Bleass [sic] everyone for attending and praying in May to bring justice to
Tiller and the closing of his death camp. Sometime soon, would it be feasible
to bring as many people as possible to attend Tillers [sic] church (inside
not just outside) …”
Moreover, when Roeder was apprehended for Dr. Tiller’s murder, news
cameras photographed a piece of paper on the dashboard of Roeder’s car: It
contained the phone number of Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior
policy advisor, who served two years in prison for conspiring to bomb abortionclinics in 1988. Roeder also told me that Sullenger was present at the lunch
with Newman where they discussed “justifiable” homicide, and that Newman
had given Roeder the autographed copy of his book just three months before
Roeder killed Tiller when Roeder visited Operation Rescue headquarters.
Sullenger was there as well, Roeder said.
Yet Newman has denied any formal link between Roeder and Operation
Rescue. He said to me, “I have no recollection of ever meeting Scott Roeder.” Immediately
after Roeder killed Dr. Tiller, Newman issued a statement saying, “We
deplore the criminal actions with which Mr. Roeder is accused…Operation
Rescue has diligently and successfully worked for years through peaceful, legal
means [to stop abortion.]” In his writings, though—his book, Their Blood Cries
Out, still for sale on the Operation Rescue website—he talks about the bloodguilt
of those who condone abortion. The biblical atonement for bloodguilt is death.
Scott Roeder, Eugene Frye, Shelley Shannon, Regina Dinwiddie and Michael
Bray all know one another.
Jennifer McCoy and Anthony Leake know all of them, too, except perhaps
Troy Newman knows McCoy, Frye and possibly others.
McCoy, Shannon, Dinwiddie and
Bray are admitted members of the
Army of God.
“We’re like circles that overlap,”
McCoy told me in an anteroom in
the Sedgwick County Courthouse
near where Scott Roeder was being
sentenced on April 1, 2010. “We all
don’t know each other—we may not
agree on a lot of things, like religion,
say—but we’re all completely committed
to one purpose: stopping
“Uh-huh,” Dinwiddie concurred,
looking up from the character statement
she was getting ready to give on
Roeder’s behalf. “That’s right.”
Across from the women was Frye,
along with David Leach—who calls
himself the secretary general of the
Army of God and is another justifiablehomicide
advocate. They were working
on their statements on behalf of
Roeder’s character, too.
They let me sit with them because
I said I was Scott’s acquaintance, and
also because I’m the niece of Dr.
Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider
murdered by James Kopp in upstate
New York. I was especially close to
Bart because he lived with my family
for nearly a decade after my own father
died when I was 4 years old.
During Roeder’s trial, and again at
his sentencing, I explained my presence
to his supporters the same way I
had explained my interest in him
when I had first written to him six
months earlier: I really need to understand
how someone could be
moved to murder to stop abortion.
I feel that I now understand.
Circles that overlap.
One circle encompasses the Army
of God, including Bray, Shannon,
Leach, Dinwiddie, McCoy and Kopp,
the man who killed my uncle.
A second circle includes justifiablehomicide
advocates Bray, Shannon,
Leach, Dinwiddie, Leake and the
murderer Paul Hill, who was executed
in 2003 by the state of Florida.
And a third circle holds Operation Dinwiddie and Bray have signed “Defensive Action” (justifiable homicide)
statements, stating in part, “We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking
all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of
force.” Leake has said publicly he supports the use of deadly force against abortion
Rescue, Troy Newman, McCoy and
Scott Roeder overlaps with all of
them (see chart on facing page).
Police, prosecutors and the military
define a cell as a circle of individuals—
usually three to 10 people—who are
joined in common unlawful purpose.
A Military Guide to Terrorism in the
Twenty-First Century, a U.S. Army
training manual, describes a cell as the
“foundation” of most terrorist organizations.
Most often, and most effectively,
these cells are networked, “depend[ing] and even thriving on
loose affiliation with groups or individuals
from a variety of locations.”
In international terrorism cases, in
organized crime cases, even in drugtrafficking
cases, conspiracy charges
can be filed when two or more people
enter into an agreement to commit an
unlawful act. In fact, of the 159 people
convicted of international terrorism by
the U.S. since 9/11, more than 70 percent
were sentenced for conspiracy (or
for “harboring” terrorists). Once a person
becomes a member of the conspiracy,
she or he is held legally responsible
for the acts of other members done in
furtherance of the conspiracy, even if
she or he is not present or aware that
the acts are being committed.
The government does not have to
prove that conspirators have entered
into any formal agreement. Because
they are trying to hide what they are
doing, criminal conspirators rarely do
such things as draw up contracts. Nor
does the government have to show
that the members of the conspiracy
state between themselves what their
object or purpose or methods are. Because
they are clandestine, criminal
conspirators rarely discuss their plans
in a straightforward way. The government
only has to prove beyond a reasonable
doubt that the members of a
conspiracy, in some implied way,
came to mutually understand they would attempt to accomplish a common and unlawful plan.
Given the broad latitude in proving conspiracy, you’d think the same legal
theory could have been used in prosecuting slayings of abortion doctors. Yet to
date, only the individual murderers of abortion providers have been charged
and prosecuted. No charges have been brought against any individuals for conspiracy
to commit those murders.
Shortly after Roeder’s trial—when I met Michael Bray and he told me he had
only met Scott Roeder after he killed Dr. Tiller—Scott Roeder stopped communicating
with me. But during one of our last phone calls, I was able to ask
Roeder a critical question:
Robb: Wait, just tell me how it works…when the use of force comes up
in conversation, it has to come up sometimes.
Roeder: I’ve always said [it] over the years, and I would see what level of
comfort they were willing to talk about it. …Michael Bray, he would talk
about it forever. He went on 60 Minutes for Pete’s sake. Other people,
they might say, “Well, you know, I just don’t think it’s right.” Then I’d explain
to them why, and if they’re still not comfortable with it, I would
drop it. I wouldn’t keep pushing it. Regina [Dinwiddie] obviously agrees
with the use of force, and Gene Frye, I believe, does.
Roeder, his associates and “The Army of God Manual” could not be more
plain. The manual ends, “‘Whosoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his
blood be shed [Gen: 9-6]… we are forced to take up arms against you.”
Taking up arms. Shedding man’s blood. Bloodguilt.Circles that overlap.
In other words, wolves run in packs.
Investigative support and research for this article were provided by the Feminist
Majority Foundation’s National Clinic Access Project. Research support was provided
by the Investigative Fund of the Nation Institute.
AMANDA ROBB is a writer based in New York. She has been a contributing writer
for O (Oprah) magazine, and her work has also appeared in The New York
Times, Newsweek, New York, George, Marie Claire, More, Harper’s Bazaar
(UK) and other periodicals.
Article reprinted from the Spring 2010 issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, join the Ms. community.
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