A Top Leader of the Southern Baptist Convention Endorsed Domestic Terrorism. Shouldn't That Be News?
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 02, 2007 at 03:58:43 PM EST
There have been some big scandals in the church world in recent years. There is the ongoing Catholic priest pedophilia scandal. The crimes were first enabled and then covered-up by high ranking church officials like Boston's Cardinal Law. Then there was Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals who was paying a male prostitute for anal sex -- while publicly denouncing homosexuality and campaigning against gay marriage.

And now there is the vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention who publicly endorsed the assasination of a doctor by a member of an underground terror organization, who had been on the FBIs Ten Most Wanted List. The first two scandals created international news, but the third has not; at least not yet. Since Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center broke the story, there has been no press coverage that I can find, except for Ethics Daily;  and only a handful of blog posts, notably Mainstream Baptist, Big Daddy Weave, Moiv and me.  This merits further discussion.

Rev. Wiley Drake endorsed the murder in signing a declaration of support for confessed assasin James Kopp on the web site of the Army of God. He has also, as I reported, had a long time involvement in antiabortion activism among other things, with an AOG leader named Robert Ferguson.

As I noted in announcing that Rev. Drake had been named Theocrat of the Week, Army of God member James Kopp shot Dr. Barnett Slepian to death from the woods behind his home with a high powered rifle fitted with a telescopic sight. Slepian bled to death in front of his family after having just returned from the synagogue where he said kaddish for his dead father. Kopp is suspected in four similar shootings in the U.S. and Canada.

What's more Kopp and his cohort in the Army of God have waged a covert campaign of bomings, arsons and strategic assasinations while quietly building their movement. According to Intelligence Report:

Kopp maintained that he never intended his shooting to result in Slepian's death, after which the anti-abortion extremist fled the Buffalo area for Mexico, Ireland and then France, where he was finally captured in March 2001 as one of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" fugitives. Kopp admitted the killing to a newspaper reporter in November of 2002.

It was after this admission that Wiley Drake, a well-known Baptist minister from Buena Park, Calif., signed a "Declaration of Support for James Kopp."

The Declaration reads, in part:  

We the signers of this declaration, proclaim that we support and stand for righteousness in defense of the unborn

We WILL NOT turn away and cower in fear of our godless, oppressive government and judicial system...

I wrote:

The Declaration of Support for James Kopp is posted on the web site of the Army of God (AOG) -- that's the organization of revolutionary theocrats of myriad stripes that have engaged in a violent war of attrition, with abortion providers as their primary target, for a generation. Leading figures in the AOG include women and men convicted of murder, bombing, arson, kidnapping, and more. Such leading lights as the late Rev. Paul Hill, (executed in Florida's electric chair for the murder of a doctor and his escort), and Rev. Michael Bray who served four years for his involvement in a series of bombings and arsons of clincs and civil rights organizations in the 1980s have publicly advocated for theocratic revolution in the United States.  Among Bray's notable crimes was the bombing of the Washington Office of the American Civil Liberties Union on the 4th of July.  Bray was among a number of convicted felons joining Drake in the Declarations of Support for James Kopp.

The Declararion, according to the AOG, was originally posted at the site of  Missionaries to the Unborn, a similarly oriented site that maintained a fundraising support group for people convicted of major antiabortion crimes -- a function now maintained by AOG. Suffice to say, one does not happen upon these web sites incidentally, or post on them casually or in ignorance of their purposes.  Indeed, Drake is well-known in these circles.

The silence is not limited to Baptists. There is silence across the entirety of the religious and political spectrum, at least as far as my Google searches indicate.  To me, this is quite inexplicable. A top official of the largest protestant denomination in the U.S. endorses domestic terrorism -- and the nation is silent?  

But since this is a Baptist scandal, let's take a look at the only window I can find on whats going on there.

The Baptist blogger, Rev. Wade Burleson, a leader in the SBC election of a reform slate of candidates that included Drake, was challenged by several fellow bloggers to speak out about the Drake affair. In this comment thread at Baptist Life Burleson initially (see April 30th) declined to say a discouraging word about the man who endorsed the murder of a doctor; described the govnemrent and judicial system of the United States as "godless" and "oppressive," and hangs out with the Army of God. Here is part of his response:  

I have personally visited with Wiley Drake about several issues that he has advocated and supported in the SBC (both before and after his election) with which I adamantly, publicly and vociferously disagree.... His positions politically, culturally and eschatologically are precisely the logical ends of the ideological and philosophical viewpoints of many in current leadership -- but not the majority of the convention herself. ... but I admire his compassion for those he considers downtrodden ... that will be my only comment on Pastor Wiley Drake.

I was struck by the quote that Burleson has as his signature line on his comments:  
The world is too dangerous to live in - not because of the people who do evil but because of the people who sit and let it happen.  Albert Einstein

Well, Rev. Burleson, one of the great evils in the United States is the terrorizing of abortion providers in violation of the laws and constitution of the United States, not to mention a few Christian principles. This happens because there are thousands of people who specifically encourge and enable these activities or do and say nothing in response. They let it happen.

Interesting that the conservative Baptist Burleson quoted the atheist, socialist, scientist Einstein in his signature line. So let's quote the conservative Christian philosopher of the Enlightenment Edmund Burke, right back at him (since Burke and Einstein are essentially saying the same thing):

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing."

If the leaders of the SBC, reform or otherwise, cannot speak out against the endorsement of domestic terrorism by one of their own elected national officers -- then how can they say that they speak with integrity on anything?

A little farther down in the comment thread, after several commenters challenged him, Burleson further huffed:

"I, Wade Burleson, strongly, vehemently, unconditionally, and eternally disagree with Wiley Drake's affirmation of a murderer, if indeed he ever made such an affirmation."
So Burleson said he "disagrees" with Drake, then casts doubt on the entire matter -- pretending that the facts might not  exist, or if they do, he is not going to look into it.

The simple fact is an elected national officer of the Southern Baptist Convention is at least periferally involved with a domestic terror organization with a long history of violent crimes and has explicitly endorsed one of them. My hunch is that this that this is probably but the tip of the iceberg of Drake's involvement with the Army of God.

Given what is known, it would seem like SBC leaders and the national press corps, would want to get to the bottom of all this.

As it now stands, Wade Burleson, a leader of the reform wing of the SBC is publicly unconcerned that a national officer of his denomination not only supports domestic terrorism, but may have deeper involvement. Of course in fairness to Burleson, no other leaders SBC leaders have yet to emerge from the shadows, making Burleson the more courageous and forthright leader in the Southern Baptist Convention. But I am eager to learn of any others. I may have missed.

And in fairness to the Baptists, I have not heard any other leader from any sector of society say anything either.

The reason for this, I think has to do with what I call the abortion exception.  Essentially this means that whatever the subject, if it touches on abortion, it is treated  differently.

Let's briefly look at the matter at hand:  The Army of God has killed people and destroyed millions of dollars in property, but it is not listed as a domestic terrorism organization by the Department of Justice -- but "eco-terror" groups are. We hear a lot of media hype about the latter, but not much about the former. That said, the federal government's counter terrorism taskforce has thwarted several planned crimes and serial crimes against abortion providers, but with minimum fanfare. So even though these crimes are dealt with by the federal counter terrorism experts, (including the use of infiltrators and informants) antiabortion violence is not officially recognized as domestic terrorism.

Not persuaded?  Here is more.

In the wake of 9/11 and the anthrax attacks against congress and media outlets; a convict named Clayton Waagner escaped from federal custody, posted a manifesto on the Army of God web site and threated to kill employees of abortion providers. Waagner made clear in his several internet postings that he had lists of clinic workers and would spare their lives if they quit their jobs. He stole weapons, robbed banks, hijacked and stole cars for months while on the lam and driving all over the country.  He described himself as a terrorist. I covered his escapades for Salon.com. But there was little other national media coverage.Waagner was celebrated by AOG leaders, and soon, Waagner fed-exed threatening letters in the name of the Army of God to hundreds of clincs and abortion rights organizations. Each envelope contained white powder and said the person opening it had  just been exposed to anthrax. In the post 9/11, post real anthrax attacks period, the responses were dramatic as people were sometimes forced by first responsers to strip and be sprayed with bleach, among other indignities, and police, fire and hazmat resources were moblized on massive scales, closing down several city blocks in some places.

Waagner today is a an AOG "Hero of the Faith," just like James Kopp. Here is the link to his AOG home page and a sample of what you will find there:

While an FBI Most Wanted Fugitive, I made my most effective attack on the abortion industry.

In October of 2001 I mailed fake anthrax to 500 abortion clinics. In November of 2001 I Federal Expressed another 300 fake anthrax letters. The white powder I used was harmless, but tested positive for anthrax.
Most of the 580 abortion clinics I closed in 2001 remained closed for a week, resulting in 3,940 clinic closure days, and the disruption of nearly 20,000 scheduled abortions. According to abortion clinic numbers, 5,000 or more babies are alive today because of my act of "Domestic Terrorism."

I will spend the rest of my life in a federal prison. It seems a small price to pay.

I would be the first to say that we are all only human, and we can't possibly keep track of everything. I know I can't.  But the SBC is an ostensibly democratic orgnaization. It holds conventions, and elects its national leadership, just like many other religious and non-religious organizations.  It would be one thing for them not to have an official position on James Kopp. But they do not get to not have a position on SBC Vice President Wiley Drake's involvement with the Army of God. Let's consider a few hypothetical analogies:

Would it be OK for the U.S. Congress to turn a blind eye to a member who endorsed the assasination of an American citizen and was involved in any way with a member of a domestic terror organzation?  Would it be OK for a labor leader to endorse a murder of the management of a company, and be invovled in a domestic terror organization? (Wouldn't say, the United Auto Workers investigate the matter immediately and publicly distance themselves and call for his resignation?  Don't we think the media would be all over it?)  Would it be OK for an elected national feminist leader to endorse the murder of an anti-feminist and be publicly associated with a domestic terror organization?

I'll conclude by asking by what standard does the Southern Baptist Convention get to ignore the endorsement of domestic terrorism by one of its national officers? And by what standard of news judgement does the national media ignore the story? And what is it about all this that even the blogosphere (with a few notable exceptions) has not jumped on this?

and everyone else for that matter, is complicity.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 02, 2007 at 04:33:50 PM EST

What can we, people concerned about the Christian Right and the mainsteaming of anti-abortion violence, do to push this story into the elite/mainstream media?  Does it help to email a post like this to the people at the NY Times, Washington Post, CNN, etc. and ask them to consider covering it?  Would we be better off trying to interest a religious program like Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly in carrying this story?

Also, a minor quibble with your statement about Einstein.  Einstein was a socialist and a great scientist, but he was no atheist!  He was a pantheist and a believer in the Old One.

"I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair" - JFK, Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association
by hardindr on Wed May 02, 2007 at 04:51:49 PM EST

It always helps to tip media to a story, or ask why they are not covering something.

In this instance, if you are so inclined, you might start with the LA Times and the Orange County Register, since they are the major local papers where Wiley lives.

As for Einstein, thanks for the info!

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed May 02, 2007 at 05:18:24 PM EST

I just wanted to say that this is a great article. As someone who has done work for the federal government, it never ceases to shock me over how our "War on Terror" president never gets around to investigating abortion clinic attackers. Furthermore, when a high-profile Muslim leader openly endorses terrorists and terrorism activity, he's considered a security risk; yet nothing happens when Christian leaders openly endorse domestic terrorism against women. Simply disgusting...

by Mitchell on Thu May 03, 2007 at 11:48:33 AM EST

The standard by which the Southern Baptist Convention ignores the endorsement of domestic terrorism by one of its officers is the same standard by which it also ignores reported clergy child molesters among them. See http://www.stopbaptistpredators.org
It's a "not my problem" sort of standard that shrugs and then pontificates about the autonomy of each individual church. Southern Baptists have a system in which even high officials can "sit and let happen" misdeeds that are outrageous and heinous because "the buck stops nowhere" and no one bears responsibility.  

by christa on Thu May 03, 2007 at 02:23:58 PM EST

I agree with the gist of your topic, but I'd double check the quote about Einstein.

As I understand it, Einstein was not in the least atheist.

Socialist- yes, very possible (and not a bad thing at all!)

by ArchaeoBob on Wed May 02, 2007 at 11:54:10 PM EST

has already made the point about Einstein and his beliefs. Point well taken.

Of course, the point I was making was not contingent on what Einstein believes, and yes he was a socialist. I was offering that as neither a credential or a disparagement. Just an interesting fact when juxtaposed with the a man many consider to be the founding philosopher of conservatism, Edmund Burke.

What I find amusing is Burleson quoting him -- like he was actually adhering to Einstein's point.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu May 03, 2007 at 12:14:29 AM EST

Baptists have an out in the sense that no Baptist can speak for another Baptist because of soul freedom. President Frank Page can just say Darke does not speak for the rest of the convention.  Prescott and others like myself have been trying to call attention to the fact that this element has been elevated to places of leadership in the convention.  I have noted the secular press does not like to take on the Convention.

by wilkyjr on Thu May 03, 2007 at 09:27:02 AM EST
but my guess is that if Drake had done say, what Ted Haggard did, everyone would have something to say, soul freedom not withstanding.

The simple fact is that a national officer of the Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor of a local church, has endorsed domestic terrorism, not just in theory but a specific criminal act and in consort with a group of domestic terrorists. And suddenly everyone has no opinion because of soul freedom?  If the SBC, or any of its individual leaders is going to take the position that they have no position on Drake's endorsement of domestic terrorism because he has the soul freedom to do act as his conscience tells him, I say let them do it in public.

As someone who is not a Baptist, I also appreciate the first amendment and Drake's right of free speech. But that same right belongs to others who can certainly speak out against Drake's endorsement of terrorism, and as citizens, I say it is their responsibility. As we all know from history, silence is complicity, and that goes for the press as well.  If reporters cannot ask SBC officers about the endorsement of domestic terrorism by one of their number, then what can they ask them about?

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu May 03, 2007 at 11:37:40 AM EST

Exactly one week after EthicDaily reported on the SPLC (Spring 2007) story, Wiley Drake has chosen to respond.  

And his response? Deny Deny Deny

12 Witnesses and Wade Burleson

First, Wiley Drake claims he's never heard of Army of God nor James Kopp.

I'm no scholar of domestic terrorism.  But EVEN I am familiar with James Kopp and the Army of God.  You'd think the anti-abortion crusader would know the name of James Kopp, a fellow Californian

Second, Wiley is known to struggle with the truth.  A mainstream-Baptist named Brian Kaylor interviewed Wiley last year for EthicsDaily.com about his Moonie connections and Wiley flat-out lied.

Apologies are being demanded from one Southern Baptist blogger who took on Wiley.  

I'm sure they'll head over to mainstream-Baptist blogs such as mine next.

by Big Daddy Weave on Fri May 04, 2007 at 01:14:41 AM EST
Yes, folks, I live :D  Third-shift job just ate my soul for a good while :D

by dogemperor on Fri May 04, 2007 at 02:25:54 PM EST

It is is certainly inconvenient to have endorsed domestic terrorism. Gosh, it used to be called prolife. How times have changed.

I will have more to say about all this soon. While I suppose it is possible Drake did not sign the declaration of support. But suffice to say for now that Drake's denial does not explain how his name got on the declaration of support for James Kopp in the first place. Interesting too that he does not even mention it. Probably because he would rather not call any further attention to it.

It is not a "lie" that Drake's name and affiliations are listed on the AOG web site -- been there for years -- it is a fact. Do Wiley and his allies like Burleson deny this fact?  And if so, on what basis do they do so?  How does Wiley explain how his name got on there?  He doesn't.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri May 04, 2007 at 03:06:30 AM EST

Actually, the denial is part and parcel of Army of God advocacy--as it is, the Army of God was among the first of modern militia groups to advocate "leaderless resistance" and (unless arrested in the midst of a terrorist attack) members are supposed to deny the org exists or that they are members of it.

Sadly, I'm not terribly shocked at finding that an SBC leader is involved in this--this goes further in hand with the "Joel's Army-isation" of the SBC in general, and the Army of God and its partners have a quite well-documented history of support among dominionist leaders.

I am, sadly, also not surprised at the almost complete non-response to dominionism-related domestic terrorism by our present administration (and I'm not the only one to have noticed, either; the SPLC themselves have noted that they have found over sixty right-wing terror plots (not just by dominionist-terrorist groups, but by the likes of Christian Identity and neo-Nazi groups as well) between 1999 and 2005 that the feds have done nothing on, not even investigated.

by dogemperor on Fri May 04, 2007 at 02:25:00 PM EST

Whether or not Drake actually signed that document, it seems to me the more important question is why there wasn't someone in the denomination who thought it important enough to seriously look into the fact of Drake's name on that document and to openly and transparently relate back some information.

by christa on Fri May 04, 2007 at 06:50:46 PM EST

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