An Armed Fanatic Raises the Stakes

A deadly rampage at two clinics shocks Boston and raises a national outcry over unchecked antiabortion terrorism

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So far, there is no evidence formally linking Salvi with a particular antiabortion group. He had reportedly been seen demonstrating outside the Boston clinics, but aside from the picture of a fetus he had plastered on his pickup truck (his boss made him remove it), there was little to distinguish him from the vehement but otherwise nonviolent protesters who make up the vast majority of the movement. People who know Salvi say he often acted oddly. Says Karen Harris, who attended the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Beauty School with the suspect: "He never showed emotion. He always had a straight face. But the main thing was how he would stare at people. He'd just stare and stare and wouldn't look away." Doreen Potter, manager of the Eccentric Beauty Salon, where Salvi worked as a trainee, recalls that he flew into a rage a week before the shootings when she told him he couldn't cut a client's hair. After the incident, she says, "this guy looked like he was ready to go off."

But even if Salvi lacked ties to the more aggressive antiabortion organizations, some pro-choice advocates suspect that a conspiracy to commit violence does exist. And even if it does not, they say, the propaganda some antiabortion groups put out can incite attacks. Paul Hill, currently under a death sentence for a double murder at a Pensacola, Florida, clinic last summer, publicly advocates the doctrine of "justifiable homicide" against abortionists. A manual issued by a shadowy group known as the Army of God was found buried in the backyard of Shelley Shannon, now serving 10 years for wounding Wichita, Kansas, physician George Tiller in 1993. The pamphlet celebrates the murder that year of a Pensacola abortion doctor, gives instructions on how to handle explosives and offers such advice as: "If terminally ill, use your final months to torch clinics; by the time the authorities identify you . . . you will have gone to your reward."

In response to the rising tide of antiabortion violence over the past several years, President Clinton last May signed into law the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act, prohibiting anyone from using force, threats or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate or interfere with a person trying to enter or leave an abortion clinic. Immediately after the Pensacola murders last summer, Attorney General Janet Reno created the Clinic Violence Task Force to determine whether there was a conspiracy against abortion clinics. At about that time, U.S. marshals were deployed to guard nearly two dozen clinics. By fall, however, the contingent of marshals was cut drastically on the grounds that the threat had abated.

Abortion activists deny that is so. Says Smeal: "As of today, there has not been one arrest for death threats, yet there are known extremists who are making these threats against doctors and clinics. We're not talking about the entire right-to-life movement. But for there to be so many threats, and for there to be so few arrests, it has to be a weak investigation."

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