Todd Akin's Roots in Anti-Abortion Militancy -- UPDATED
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 10:12:16 PM EST
A remarkable story has been developing about Christian Right pol, Missouri GOP Senate candidate Todd Akin's roots in antiabortion militancy.  Investigations by, among othrs, RightWingWatch and Salon.com found that Akin was arrested with Operation Rescue activists in the late 80s, and had political connections with a local militia group in the 90s.

As it happens, the focus of these stories is one Tim Dreste, who epitomized the profound overlap between the then-nascent militia movement, and advocates of antiabortion violence -- a connection originally documented by my colleagues at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and I in the mid 90s.  I later detailed this convergence in a pair of stories for Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  These articles have been cited as sources in several stories on the growing scandal.

Two things stand out for me about this story. It is not so much the buzz of political excitement about the latest revelations about Akin -- but that a pol like Akin, a senior member of the House of Representatives, could have come so far, and no one had previously noticed all this.  I think this is part of the way that as as a culture -- political, journalistic, scholarly -- we tend to drop the ball and lose track of these things.  Anyone who now thinks it is important to know that Rep. Todd Akin has disturbing ties to the militia movement and proponents of anti-abortion violence, really should consider the role of research and deeper understandings of the history, players, and ideology of the political and religious right.  

Here are links to the Intelligence Report stories:

Anti-Abortion Bombings Related:  'Patriots' and racists converge

Anti-Abortion Movement Marches On After Two Decades of Arson, Bombs and Murder

Here are a few excerpts from the Salon article.  (I also recommend the remarkable 1999 investigation of Tim Dreste by The Riverfront Times.

Dreste headed a group in St. Louis group called Pro-Life Direct Action. Today, we learn that Akin was arrested while participating in a protest with Pro-Life Direct Action. Earlier this month, Akin confirmed to reporters that he had been arrested about 25 years ago while blockading an anti-abortion clinic. PFAW [People for the American Way] first uncovered a video of Akin discussing the arrest in 2011. Akin confirmed the incident, but refused to provide further details, leading But PFAW to file a public information request with the St. Louis Police Department. Today, the group reported that the department supplied an arrest date of May 9, 1987, the same date that news reports show police had arrested a  group of pro-life demonstrators in a protest similar to one Akin described being arrested for.

At the time of Akin's arrest, Pro-Life Direct Action was headed by a radical anti-abortion activist named John Ryan, who was accused of leading a "reign of terror" against abortion clinics nationwide and who bragged of being arrested almost 350 times. But after it came out later in 1987 that Ryan was having an extramarital affair, Tim Dreste pushed Ryan aside and took over the group. Shortly thereafter, Dreste started an even more radical new group affiliated with Randall Terry's Operation Rescue called Whole Life Ministries. "Whole Life Ministries soon became the paramount anti-abortion activist group in St. Louis," journalists James Risen and Judy Thomas wrote in their 1998 book about the pro-life movement, Wrath of Angels.

The next year, Akin addressed Dreste's new group. In late October of 1988, Whole Life Ministries planned to blockade an abortion clinic as part of a national protest organized by Operation Rescue. Akin rallied Dreste's troops in a church the night before. "As far as I am concerned, you are the freedom fighters of America... My hat is off to you," Akin said, according to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story. Dreste told the paper that night that he expected to get arrested, explaining, "We will tell (police) we will obey God's law before we obey man's law.

In 1993, Dreste became "the talk of the anti-abortion and abortion-rights camps when, after the murder in 1993 of Dr. David Gunn in Florida, he carried a sign asking, `Do You Feel Under the Gunn?'" as St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Jo Mannies wrote at the time. That same year, Dreste mounted a long-shot campaign for state representative, which Akin allegedly supported.

When Dreste failed to get into the statehouse, he got involved in the burgeoning right-wing militia movement, helping to found the 1st Missouri Volunteers, also serving as the group's chaplain and a captain, attracting the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center.   See a program from one of the militia's meetings obtained by Salonhere.

Which brings us back to 1995, when the militia invited Akin to speak at a rally and he ended up on a flier as a featured speaker. As Akin tells it,  story, he not only didn't know Moore, who said he knew Akin; nor did he know Dreste, one of the most high-profile anti-abortion activists in the state and someone he appears  to have worked with for several years?  "That's ridiculous. Saying he didn't know the militia people, that just doesn't stand to reason," said John Hickey, the former director of Missouri ProVote, a local progressive organization that first obtained video of Akin speaking at the militia in 2000. "St. Louis just isn't that big. It's not New York City... Everybody's going to know each other."

Update [2012-10-24 15:32:9 by Frederick Clarkson]: The Kansas City Star reports: Akin was arrested multiple times outside abortion clinics
When Republican Todd Akin was in Kansas City on Sept. 28, he acknowledged he was arrested at an anti-abortion protest about 25 years ago.

What the candidate for the U.S. Senate did not say was that he was arrested at least three other times in the 1980s, apparently for the same thing.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that the three previously undisclosed arrests were all in 1985 and were for criminal trespass and resisting arrest at clinic protests in St. Louis and Illinois. In one of the arrests, the newspaper said, police had to carry Akin to an elevator because he refused to walk.

The newspaper said it discovered the additional arrests in its own archives, but they were in news reports under the name of William Akin. William is Akinís first name, but he started using his middle name, Todd, when he entered the Missouri General Assembly in the late 1980s.




Display:
In the first paragraph that you have quoted from the Salon article, the phrase appears: "while blockading an anti-abortion clinic." This really doesn't make sense. I think it probably should be "while blockading an abortion clinic." I've posted a comment on the Salon article noting this and requesting that they give it some attention.

by MLouise on Tue Oct 23, 2012 at 11:03:07 PM EST

I would have to think that the opposition research person or people at St. Louis PP and Hope Clinic had some knowledge of Akin as an activist. Publicizing his arrest might have been counterproductive, because the country club set just don't care (it's easy for them to go elsewhere for an abortion), and the religious conservatives would see getting arrested as a plus for Akin, giving him "street cred".

by NancyP on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 01:51:32 PM EST
Being a fellow traveler of militias was not such a bad thing politically for a candidate running in a  white suburban/rural district. Certainly the MO state legislature has had a number of open fellow travelers of local militias. Akin's problem is that he has stepped out onto a national stage by running for a hotly contested Senate seat. I am not well up on internal workings of the state Republican party and operatives in CD#2, but after Akin won office that first time (in a hotly contested primary), he relied on incumbency and name recognition to keep CD#2, a solidly Republican district.

by NancyP on Wed Oct 24, 2012 at 02:02:14 PM EST
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