Theocrat of the Week
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat May 12, 2007 at 11:04:51 PM EST
Our Theocrat of the Week, Joseph Scheilder, head of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) won on a technicality. But oh, what a technicality it was!

But that is not the reason he is our Theocrat of the Week.

Scheidler, a leader of some of the most violent anti-abortion protests in American history, is celebrating final victory in a civil suit that lasted 21 years, and went to the U.S. Supreme Court three separate times before it was dismissed on a technicality. Scheidler and his allies orchestrated violent clinic protests at the same time he was praising notorious criminals, visiting convicted clinic arsonists in prison, and personally pleading (unsuccessfully) for pardons from then-president Reagan. The better known Operation Rescue, was created by, and was a project of the Scheidler-led PLAN.

The federal civil suit designed to stop the blatant choreography of crime directed against American citizens and legitimate busineses was named NOW v. Scheidler. After a dramatic seven-week trial in 1998, a federal jury unanimously held Scheidler and his fellow defendants liable for 121 acts of extortion, force, and violence. In 2000, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago unanimously upheld the verdict. In the end, the Supreme Court in an 8-0 decision held that the activities of Scheider et al, did not meet the legal definition of "extortion" and therefore federal anti-rackteering laws  did not apply, and ordered the case dismissed.

The Supreme Court did not dispute the factual findings of the federal jury that criminal acts had been committed -- only that they did not constitute extortion. Free speech and the First Amendment rights of protest were not an issue.  Nevertheless, Scheidler, told the Associated Press:  

"It's really about free speech."

Operation Rescue's Troy Newman called Scheidler a "true American hero."

Fr. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life denounced NOW and others who oppose what he characterized as Scheidler's "working peacefully" against abortion.  

I have been proud to be associated with Joe from my very first days as National Director of Priests for Life...  "Now, a new chapter begins," Fr. Pavone continued. "It is time for everyone who knows that abortion is murder to act like it. We've talked long enough. It's time to take to the streets

Back in 1985, when all this got started, and before 9/11 changed everything, the mood was different.  Here is a snippet of what I wrote about the origins of the case for Ms. magazine:

"Welcome Pro-Life Activists - Have a Blast," read the marquee outside a little motel in Appleton, Wisconsin, in 1985. Members of the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) were in a festive mood following dozens of arsons and bombings of abortion clinics around the United States. Some wore firecrackers on their conference name badges. A letter from imprisoned clinic arsonist Curt Beseda was read. This small but seminal meeting in many ways epitomized the brazen yet banal nature of organized antiabortion extremism-a rah-rah atmosphere, like some perverse parody of a pep rally, in which threats of future violence were cloaked as free speech, and past criminal acts were celebrated as valid tools for intimidating fellow citizens.

Prior to resolution of the suit, lead attorney Fay Clayton testified before Congress about the suit:

Scheidler vowed to stop abortion by "any means necessary." He publicly praised convicted arsonists for their effectiveness and their zeal. Appropriately, Scheidler called PLAN the "pro-life mafia." In 1985, in the midst of a rash of clinic arsons and bombings, PLAN proclaimed "a year of pain and fear" for anyone seeking or providing an abortion. Scheidler and others claimed that their tactics were "non-violent," but Scheidler also claimed that arson is "non-violent" -- which gives you an idea of the word games he and his cohorts play.

PLAN's founders knew that a well-organized coalition like PLAN would be far more effective in closing down clinics than the dozens of constituent anti-abortion groups operating independently...

That is precisely what PLAN's leaders did. Having formed the enterprise, PLAN called its members to nationwide "conventions," where they adopted agendas of illegal conduct and sent PLAN's members to carry them out. (While the majority of the illegal acts were carried out by their foot soldiers, PLAN's leaders committed some of them personally as well.) At the conventions, they agreed to new tactics, like barricading clinics with Kryptonite locks, blockading clinic doors with junker cars, and dismantling medical equipment. And a PLAN conference was not complete without "Field Training," in which the PLAN participants went to a local clinic to practice the unlawful tactics they had agreed to use. One agenda included a "Day of Amnesty" on which PLAN members threatened abortion providers all across the country that if they did not close voluntarily, they would be closed by tactics such as blockades.

It's important to dispel the myth that PLAN engaged in nothing but peaceful, First Amendment-protected activity. It did not. PLAN's blockades, invasions and the other RICO violations that the jury found PLAN committed are acts of force and violence. The jury heard testimony from patients and clinic workers who were attacked during PLAN's blockades, including blockades at which Joseph Scheidler and Randall Terry were personally on the scene. One doctor, Dr. Susan Wicklund, was grabbed and slammed against a car as she tried to get through the blockade and into her office. Patients were tripped and pushed to the ground. One clinic administrator was grabbed by her hair and thrown to the ground by an Operation Rescue leader. Another was viciously choked by Operation Rescue protesters, leaving serious bruises on her neck. One patient, who was trying to enter the clinic -- not for an abortion but for post-operative care following cancer surgery -- was beaten with an Operation Rescue protester's sign. The protesters clawed at her and attacked her, causing her sutures to rupture, and she passed out. This is not speech or advocacy.

This case is not about First Amendment activity. My clients have never objected to peaceful picketing, leafletting, or even to hateful, ugly speech by abortion opponents. Calling our clients "murderers," "whores" and "sluts" is not a RICO violation, and we have never claimed it is. The First Amendment protects speech, even ugly speech. But it does not protect the acts of force and violence on which our suit was based. Our case was not based on speech or advocacy, but on acts and threats of force and violence.

The armed and violent wing of the theocratic movement in the United States got a big public relations boost from Scheidler, who has never wavered in his support for their activities.  Scheidler, ever a master of press relations, got quoted in the national AP story and other media  saying the case was about free speech. This is important because it would be a tremendous setback for the theocratic movement's push to define human reproduction in accordance with conservative Christian doctrines if the press and the public ever really focused on the three decades of violence against abortion providers -- the bombings, assasinations, arsons, death threats and bomb threats that most people would call domestic terrorism.

But Scheider managed to head off much further discussion of the violence that led to the law suit by getting quoted, unrebutted in the national media saying it is all about free speech.  And that is why Joseph Scheidler is our Theocrat of the Week.

here, and at

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun May 13, 2007 at 10:03:40 PM EST

Thank you for bringing to light the lack of scrutiny of this man's claims of nonvionlence.
In the late '70's, in his book, "Closed: 99 Ways to Stop Abortion," he bragged about a tactic which he said caused increased complication rates by as much as 400% at abortion clinics he targeted: he would herd his followers, all of whom were silent, as close as possible to a clinic building, when it could reasonably be assumed that abortions were being performed inside the building. At Scheidler's signal, the group would then suddenly make as much noise as possible. Clearly, the hope was that a startled doctor's hand would slip in mid-procedure

by nogodsnomasters on Mon May 14, 2007 at 09:39:40 AM EST

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