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Profile: John Salvi
John Salvi was a participant or observer in the following events:
One of a number of semi-official logos for the Army of God. The logo depicts the organization’s slogan: ‘Get Ready to Fight for Holiness and Righteousness.’ [Source: ilovejesusforever (.com)]An anonymous member (or members) of the Army of God (see 1982, August 1982, and July 1988) produces the “Army of God Manual,” a privately printed, closely guarded “how-to” manual for activists, showing how to harass, attack, and even kill abortion providers. Years after its initial printing, the apparent leader of the movement, the Reverend Donald Spitz, will post on the Army of God Web site: “I first became aware of the Army of God Manual in the early ‘80s, when I was given a copy by another anti-abortionist. Apparently, it had been circulated among anti-abortionists throughout the country; unknown to the government, pro-aborts, or the media, for some time. Just how long it had been in circulation prior to my receiving a copy, I do not know.” [Army of God, 1999]
Donald Spitz - Government documents will describe Spitz as the “webmaster” of the Army of God Web site, and the spiritual advisor to former minister Paul Hill, who will later be convicted of murdering a physician and his bodyguard (see July 29, 1994). Spitz will post running correspondence on the AOG site from anti-abortion activist Clayton Waagner, who will confess to sending over 550 letters containing fake anthrax to abortion clinics (see 1997-December 2001). He will also post numerous racist and homophobic diatribes on the AOG site. Spitz will be ejected from Operation Rescue, another anti-abortion group, in 1993 after the murder of Dr. David Gunn (see March 10, 1993); abortion doctor murderer John Salvi (see December 30, 1994 and After) will be found to have Spitz’s unlisted phone number after his arrest. A copy of the AOG manual will be found in 1993, buried in the backyard of an AOG member who will have attempted to murder an abortion provider (see August 19, 1993). [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006]
Methods of Disrupting, Bombing Clinics - Initially, the manual details a number ways of disrupting or closing down abortion clinics, from gluing locks and using butyric acid against clinic machinery to arson and bomb threats. The manual contains instructions for making bombs using plastic explosive. A November 1992 epilogue will advocate the murder of abortion providers. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38]
Interview - The manual also contains an undated interview with an anonymous member of the Army of God, conducted by an interviewer calling himself “The Mad Gluer.” The person interviewed says their intention is to “[d]rive the abortion industry underground with or without the sanction of government law,” using “[e]xplosives, predominantly.” The bombs are designed to “disarm… the murder weapons,” referring to the equipment used in abortion clinics, and “by disarming the persons perpetrating the crimes by removing their hands, or at least their thumbs below the second digit.” The interviewer says that such violence is not actually violence, because it “caus[es] my neighbor no longer to be able to murder innocent citizens.… No, don’t misunderstand me! The only rational way to respond to the knowledge of an imminent and brutal murder is direct action.” Told by the interviewer that “nobody can live” in a constant state of violence against abortion providers, the interview subject responds: “That’s the point. We must die in order that others might live.” The interviewer rejects the notion that Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King Jr. practiced non-violence to force social change. They say that “executing abortionists” is not the proper way to combat the practice of abortion, though “it [is] easily justified” by Biblical teaching. Rather, the Army of God “adheres to the principle of minimum force. Mercy, rather than justice is the driving force behind our actions. Or, to say it another way, we are merciful in our pursuit of justice, in our pursuit of peace.” The interview subject recommends that anyone who opposes abortion “should commit to destroying at least one death camp, or disarming at least one baby killer. The former is a relatively easy task—the latter could be quite difficult to accomplish. The preferred method for the novice would be gasoline and matches. Straight and easy. No tracks. You’ve kind of got to pour and light and leave real fast because of the flammability factor. Kerosene is great, but a little more traceable, so you will not want to buy it and use it in the same day.” Explosives using time-delay fuses are “my personal favorite,” the interviewer says. Asked about “chemical warfare,” the interviewer says, “I think that should remain classified information at this time.” In conclusion, the interviewer says: “We desperately need single lone rangers out there, who will commit to destroy one abortuary before they die. Most genuine pro-lifers praise and worship God when an abortuary is destroyed. It matters little what stripe of activist you are talking about. Rescuers, political activists, or covert operators are all thankful. And it’s common knowledge what the insurance costs are like after a good bombing.” [Army of God, 1999]
John Salvi shortly after his arrest. [Source: Sonya Rapoport]Anti-abortion activist John Salvi, a former hairdresser, murders two receptionists at two separate women’s clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Murders Receptionists, Sprays Bullets in Clinics - Salvi quietly enters a Planned Parenthood clinic, asks receptionist Shannon Lowney, “Is this Planned Parenthood?” and then shoots her to death with a .22-caliber semiautomatic rifle. Salvi then sprays the lobby with gunfire and departs. Minutes later, he enters the Preterm Health Services building two miles away and kills the receptionist, Lee Ann Nichols (some media sources identify her as “Leanne Nichols”). He again sprays the building with gunfire, but this time flees after security guard Richard Seron returns fire, in the process dropping a satchel containing a second gun and some 700 rounds of hollow-point ammunition. Eyewitness Angel Rodriguez later tells reporters: “He was completely calm and took his time. He kept the gun low on his hip and ran backwards, firing at least five shots. He was trying to scare people, and it worked.”
Shooting at Norfolk, Virginia Clinic - Police identify Salvi through a gun shop receipt he has left behind in the satchel, but are unable to find him until law enforcement officials arrest him for a non-fatal shooting at a women’s clinic in Norfolk, Virginia. In all, Salvi kills two and wounds five more.
Condemnation - Some anti-abortion groups are quick to condemn the shootings. The Reverend Flip Benham, leader of Operation Rescue (OR—see 1986), tells reporters: “You don’t use murder to solve the problem of other murder. It is heresy.” Eleanor Smeal of the Fund for the Feminist Majority says, “While there are two sides to the issue of abortion, there are no two sides to the issue of shooting people for their opinions.” Law enforcement officials cannot find direct ties between Salvi and anti-abortion organizations.
'Ready to Go Off' - A woman who attended beauty school with Salvi, Karen Harris, later recalls: “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, who employed Salvi at a hair salon, later 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 will say, “this guy looked like he was ready to go off.” [Time, 1/9/1995; Washington Post, 3/19/1996; Washington Post, 1998; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39; CBS News, 4/19/2007; Associated Press, 5/31/2009]
Federal Authorities Ignored Warnings of Violence at Brookline Clinic - Planned Parenthood officials will later say that they had received an increased number of threats to their Brookline clinic in recent weeks, in part because that clinic is involved in testing the controversial RU-486 “morning after” conception prevention pill. They also say they had requested extra federal protection (see February 1994), a claim the US Attorney for the area refuses to discuss with reporters. [Time, 1/9/1995]
Convicted of Murder, Suicides in Cell - Shortly after his arrest, anti-abortion activists will rally in support of Salvi outside his Norfolk prison (see January 1995). In 1996, Salvi will be convicted of the deaths and sentenced to life without parole; soon after, he will commit suicide in his jail cell (see March 19, 1996).
Entity Tags: Karen Harris, Operation Rescue, Eleanor Smeal, John Salvi, Fund for the Feminist Majority, Lee Ann Nichols, Doreen Potter, Shannon Lowney, Angel Rodriguez, Philip (“Flip”) Benham, Richard Seron, Planned Parenthood
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, US Domestic Terrorism
Anti-abortion activist and alleged murderer John Salvi (see December 30, 1994 and After) receives an outpouring of support from a small group of fellow anti-abortion protesters. In December 1994, Salvi killed two women in Massachusetts clinics, and attempted to kill more at the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk, near where he is being held in jail. The activists and protesters gather near the jail to mount a rally of support. Anti-abortion leader Donald Spitz, a local pastor and a leader of the violent Army of God movement (see 1982), leads a “prayer vigil” outside of the prison. Through a bullhorn, Spitz shouts: “Thank you for saving innocent babies from being put to death. John Salvi, we care about you. We love you. We support you.” The Boston Globe notes that the Norfolk area is home to many anti-abortion protesters and organizations, and writes that it is an “area where televangelist Pat Robertson and his Christian Broadcasting Network are considered mainstream.” Spitz, the head of Pro-Life Virginia, acknowledges that he and his group have picketed the Hillcrest Clinic for years, and tells reporters, “If John Salvi committed his deeds with the intent of saving innocent human babies from being put to death, his deeds were justified.” Spitz, who does not inform reporters of his connection with the Army of God, and other protesters carry signs that term Salvi a “prisoner of war.” Another protester, Ed Hyatt, calls Salvi a “hero” for killing abortion providers, and says Salvi is comparable to other “heroes” such as Michael Griffin (see March 10, 1993) and Paul Hill (see July 29, 1994). “Why is the life of a receptionist worth more than the lives of 50 innocent babies?” Spitz asks. “I don’t know why all the focus is on two receptionists when every day thousands of babies are being killed.” Kate Michelman of the National and Reproductive Rights Action League says that the Hillcrest staff has been subjected to “intense harassment and intimidation for many years… it’s a hotbed” of anti-abortion activity. The clinic has been bombed, invaded, set on fire, blockaded, and picketed. Spitz has identified at least one clinic doctor as a “war criminal” in over 800 posters he mailed to fellow doctors and neighbors. Anti-abortion leader David Crane tells reporters: “John Salvi was acting in defense of innocent life. He was willing to pay the ultimate price to stop legalized killing.” [Boston Globe, 1/2/1995; Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006]
Entity Tags: National and Reproductive Rights Action League, Boston Globe, Army of God, David Crane, Kate Michelman, Donald Spitz, Pro-Life Virginia, John Salvi, Ed Hyatt
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
A jury convicts anti-abortion activist John Salvi of murdering two people and attempting to kill five others at two Massachusetts abortion clinics (see December 30, 1994 and After). Salvi’s lawyers fail in attempting to prove him insane, dubbing him a paranoid schizophrenic who is not legally responsible for his actions. In a statement to the court, Salvi refused to apologize for his actions, and instead told the court of his theories of a widespread anti-Catholic conspiracy. “As you know, I haven’t pled guilty though I am against abortion,” Salvi told the court. “My position is pro-welfare state, pro-Catholic labor union, and, basically, pro-life.” Salvi is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences as well as lengthy jail terms for the assault convictions. Planned Parenthood official Nicki Nichols Gamble says she hopes the verdict “will help to de-escalate the climate of fear and violence that has surrounded the services we provide.” Mark Nichols, the brother of Lee Ann Nichols, one of Salvi’s victims, says after the verdict is read, “Justice was done.” Ruth Ann Nichols, Lee Ann’s mother, said in a victim statement to Salvi and the court: “Without hesitation, I hope you have sheer misery every day of your life, as you have brought all the families. I request and hope that every December 30th they put you in solitary confinement.” Salvi’s attorney, J.W. Carney Jr., says he will appeal based on Judge Barbara Dortch-Okara’s refusal to allow Salvi to testify; towards the very end of the trial, Carney tried to assert Salvi’s right to testify, but attempted to limit the areas in which the prosecution could cross-examine him, and the judge refused to allow the restricted testimony. Carney told the jury that Salvi was a “sick, sick young man” who should be placed in a state mental facility. Prosecutor John Kivlan called Salvi an anti-abortion zealot and a “terrorist” who was lucid and sane enough to shoot seven people in three clinics in two states and avoid, for a time, a massive police manhunt. The prosecution showed that Salvi had attended meetings of anti-abortion groups and had literature from those groups, but could not show any links to the organized anti-abortion movement. [Washington Post, 3/19/1996; Kushner, 2003, pp. 39] In November 1996, Salvi will commit suicide in his jail cell. His convictions will be voided by Dortch-Okara because he will be unable to complete his appeals process due to his suicide, a technical ruling that will cause great pain to the family members of his victims. Ruth Ann Nichols will tell reporters, “I have to tell you the truth, it’s as if John Salvi is coming from the grave to bring me some hurt.” [New York Times, 2/2/1997]
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