TRAINEE HAIRDRESSER JOHN SALVI, who is charged with killing two abortion-clinic workers in Massachusetts, certainly fits the profile of a lone gunman: socially awkward, emotionally volatile, paranoid and somewhat delusional-judging from his rambling statement to police after his arrest in December. But Salvi's lawyers will go to court in the next month and argue that he is unfit to stand trial. To bolster the argument, they intend to portray him as a mentally unstable young misfit pushed over the edge by the exhortations of radical antiabortionists. Phone numbers and literature found in Salvi's possession indicate that he knew-or knew of-the militants who believe that killing doctors is justified to save unborn babies. "When someone who is experiencing mental illness is exposed to these extreme statements, the line between rhetoric and reality is blurred," Salvi lawyer J.W. Carney Jr. told TIME. "It is viewed truly as a call to arms."
The extent to which Salvi was a pawn of others remains unclear. Tantalizing bits of evidence link him to the most murderous offshoots of the antiabortion movement. After the carnage in Brookline, Massachusetts, for example, Salvi drove to Norfolk, Virginia, and allegedly blasted out the windows of the Hillcrest Clinic, which even locals have trouble finding. In his pocket was the telephone number of Donald Spitz, a Norfolk-area proponent of "justifiable homicide'' who has been a frequent protester at Hillcrest. Yet so far an extensive federal investigation has failed to establish a criminal conspiracy in the Salvi case or any other abortion-related shooting.
What is clear, however, is that more than a few lone crazies have answered the call to arms. Boldly, and calmly, some people are advocating murder as well as arson and bombing to drive abortion providers out of business. "More violence is inevitable, and it is righteous," says C. Roy McMillan, a Mississippi activist whose obstetrician wife once performed abortions. "It wouldn't bother me if every abortionist in the country today fell dead from a bullet."
Such talk is not illegal--unless it can be directly linked to a crime. But a different strategy to attack proponents of violence was used in a lawsuit filed this month by the family of Dr. David Gunn. The suit, authored by attorney Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center, seeks to hold antiabortionist John Burt and his group, Rescue America, liable for Gunn's murder outside a Florida clinic two years ago. It claims that the gunman, Michael Griffin, was influenced by the group's violent rhetoric. "We don't have to show that anyone else pulled the trigger but that the shooting was encouraged to stop abortions," explains Dees, who has won two similar "wrongful death'' cases, against the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama and a white supremacist group in Oregon.