An Earnest Denial or A Wily Evasion? -- UPDATED
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat May 05, 2007 at 04:29:15 AM EST
What public figures do when they get caught doing or saying something controversial is endlessly interesting. Sometimes they puff on a big cigar and blow smoke in your face. Sometimes they try to nuance their way out of it. Sometimes they toss out a series of evasions, red herrings and other distractions. Sometimes they just lie. This brings us to the strange case of Rev. Wiley Drake, a national vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It was recently reported and widely blogged that he had signed onto a Declaration of Support for the confessed assassin of an abortion provider; and that the endorsement is featured on the web site of a domestic terror organization, the Army of God.

Rev. Drake has issued a denial via at least two of his SBC political allies, Wade Burleson and Art Rogers, who are now calling for apologies all around. But they will have to forgive us if we first apply some healthy reporter's skepticism to Drake's much-ballyhooed denial.    

But before we do, let's briefly review what he is responding to:  Intelligence Report, the quarterly magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a leading civil rights and anti-hate organization, published an article detailing Drake's support for the assassination of Dr. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider; by James Kopp, a prominent antiabortion activist. The text of the magazine is also available on the SPLC web site.  Intelligence Report is authoritative, legally vetted, and its readership includes civil rights advocates, attorneys, police and other law enforcement officers charged with enforcing civil rights and anti-hate laws. (I know a bit about this since since I happen to have written for Intelligence Report about the Army of God and anti-abortion violence; but not the article about Drake.)  The magazine reported that Drake is very publicly signed onto an outrageous Declaration of Support for James Kopp which is posted on the web site of the Army of God; a national network comprising convicted felons and those who advocate murder, bombings, arson and other crimes. There is more, but these are the main points.

Here is the entirety of Drake's response:

I did not sign any such doccument and anyone who says I did is a telling a lie.

Untill a friend called me about this I had never heard of nor did I know who James Kopp is.

My stand against killing babies has not changed. I am against killing babies.

Killing a doctor that is a baby killer is never right. Two wrongs do not make murder right.

Please hear my heart, I am deeply sadden about our killing of babies, and all those who do so will face an angry God; but that's God's business not mine.

Dr. Wiley S. Drake Sr.

There are a lot of problems with Drake's response (aside from his typos). Let's walk through the most important points.

In the first place, no one said it was a "document." It is a declaration posted online. To sign onto it, you send an email, or perhaps orally agree to have someone post the endorsement for you. Now, some might think this is a quibble -- but why would he deny something of which he is not accused? Also, look at what Drake left out: No mention of Intelligence Report, the Army of God or its web site where the Declaration and Drake's supporting statement can still be found. Update [2007-5-5 15:43:1 by Frederick Clarkson]: Drake's name has now been taken down from the Declaration.

Indeed, the "Declaration of Support for James Kopp" has been on the AOG web site since at least July 20, 2003, according to the web archive, Way Back Machine. And as my Talk to Action colleague Moiv pointed out: "Drake knows how to Google." After a little Googling of her own, she learned that Drake once berated someone for not Googling to get "background" information about him, and said a bit about what that person would find if he did Google Drake.

So, for all these years, a man active in public life, and often in the news, and who knows how to Google himself -- allows this easy-to-find but horrifically controversial use of his name that he now says is a "lie"?  It doesn't seem likely, does it?

Second, notice that Drake, Burleson and Rogers don't say that any of them have contacted the Army of God to remove his name from the Declaration of Support for James Kopp -- even though there is an easy to find e-mail address and a phone number right at the bottom of the Declaration. If they are so concerned about what they call the "lie" -- why don't they go to the source? Drake's outrage, such as it is; and his allies' calls for apologies, are directed to people who have nothing to do with it.

Third, Drake's claim to have never heard of James Kopp is very difficult to believe.  Drake has been active in anti-abortion politics for many years, as well as being very involved in public life. Kopp was a long-time activist in Operation Rescue and the Lambs of Christ before his career as a world famous assassin. By the time he was named as a suspect in the Slepian murder; and after being put on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list (along with Osama Bin Laden); after being captured in France; extradicted; and tried once for murder and a second time for FACE violations; and his American AOG accomplices who helped him on the lam were also tried and convicted -- he is certainly one of the most famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, pro-life activists in American history. It seems to me, it would be almost impossible for anyone involved in abortion politics to have not heard of Kopp. It also  seems highly improbable that no one would have sought to discuss with Drake the support he ostensibly expresses for Kopp on the AOG web site. And for that matter, if  Drake had Google himself, (which it appears that he did) he would probably have learned about Kopp.

Finally, I want to underscore what seems to me to be an example of Drake blowing smoke in our faces like a pol smoking a big cigar. It is this statement:

I did not sign any such doccument and anyone who says I did is a telling a lie.

People are not telling lies about Drake. They are taking seriously a credible report and the evidence of their own eyes. This is evidence that Drake and his supporters do not address, and clearly do not want further discussed. So  Drake accuses those who take it seriously of telling a lie.

Drake and his allies do not mention Intelligence Report that broke the story that they would rather people not read. They do not mention the Army of God and its web site where the Declaration of Support for James Kopp has been posted for years; probably because they would rather people not see the grim reality they will find there. And they certainly do not want anyone reading what I have written -- that goes a bit into his relationship with an Army of God "Hero of the Faith", the late Robert Ferguson.  And they probably don't want anyone to learn about or remember the time Drake traveled from California to Washington to protest in front of the Supreme Court with Bruce Murch, an itinerant antiabortion protester, (who was a regional director of the American Coaltion of Life Activists (ACLA), a pro-violence wing of antiabortion militance in the 90s,) and Rev. W. N. Otwell, a Texas militia proponent who is well-known for showing-up in front of clinics with a gang of men dressed in military fatigues.  

I am sure that further research would turn-up lots more episodes from Drake's career in antiabortion militancy that would cast further doubt on his claim to have never heard of James Kopp, (it is amazing what a little Googling can do), but this is enough to make the point for now.

As unlikely as it seems to me from this distance, it is certainly possible that Drake is telling the truth. (Or maybe he just forgot about all that Kopp stuff.)  But I think that he and his allies owe everyone a much better explanation than they have produced so far, because they have not, as far as I can tell, even tried to produce one.

since prominent Baptist blogger Wade Burleson, (highly touted as having helped usher in a reform slate of officers for the SBC) is, in the name of avoiding rushing to judgment, leading the charge to avoid evaluating the evidence and actually looking into Drake and three little words:  Army. Of. God.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sat May 05, 2007 at 01:23:44 PM EST

Thanks for addressing this issue. I am very doubtful of Drake's claim that he did not sign it.

When I interviewed him last year for an article ( I wrote about his connections with the Moonies, his answers were not entirely accurate. Although he apologized publicly back in 2001 for his Moonie connections I reported that he actually continued to be a part of their events. When I interviewed him, he at first denied he had done any other events. When I told him I had evidence he was at three events he claimed it might have been one but no more. One of the three Moonie newspaper articles about his involvement after the apology even had a photo of him at the event.

by Kaylor on Sat May 05, 2007 at 11:49:23 PM EST

A lot of people who get involved with the Moon organization seem to be well coached in how to lie about it, and how to tamp down media coverage by deflection and denial.

Perhaps he is putting his skills to use in another arena.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun May 06, 2007 at 12:01:31 AM EST

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