OTI Online
winter 1997

How to Get the Goods on the Right
by Loretta J. Ross

EVERY DAY I AM FRUSTRATED BY THE FACT THAT OUR ANTIabortion opponents appear to know more about us than we know about them. They picket our homes and offices, write in their newsletters about our personal lives, put out "wanted" posters on our doctors. Yet most of us, foot soldiers in the pro-choice movement, may know the names of their national leaders but know very little else about them.

Part of the reason for this is, simply, that we don't stoop to the dirty tricks they use. We don't call their homes and lie about who we are, follow their children home from school to harass them, park outside their houses blocking their driveways, or call their employers in an effort to get them fired.

But because they do use such slimy tactics, they make me mad - mad enough to want to find out more about them. So I've figured out how to apply some undercover tactics of my own. If you want to join me, here's a primer about how to do high-quality opposition research on the anti-abortion movement.

How to Get the Goods - and on Whom

There are three main areas of opposition research: data collection, infiltration, and reporting. But before we explore them, it's important for you to understand the different types of anti-abortion groups that are out there. You have to know precisely whom youare dealing withjin order to develop the most appropriate responses to their strategies and tactics.


In August 1992, while I was on staff at the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), a research center that tracks hate crimes, I launched a project that would investigate the links between the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement and the far-right organizations and individuals we routinely monitored at CDR. I was convinced that the anti-abortion movement was about to escalate its violence and would adopt the tactics of the white-supremacist movement. In March 1993, nine months after the project was started, Dr. David Gunn was killed by Michael Griffin in Pensacola, Florida. A year and a few months after that, Dr. John Britton was murdered by Paul Hill, followed a few months later, in December 1994, by three murders committed by John Salvi in Brookline, Massachusetts. At the end of the three-year project in 1995, the research revealed:

• that significant links exist between the militaristic wing of the anti-abortion movement and the militia movement that's sweeping the country;

• that most of those convicted for extreme anti-abortion violence such as assassinations and bombings had been influenced by the fascist right and had, in fact, directly borrowed tactics like wanted posters and stalking from the white-supremacist movement;

• that some clinic sieges have involved actual members of hate groups, such as racist skinheads who demonstrated in Dallas, Texas, and Portland, Oregon, or members of the Ku Klux Klan in Florida who frequently demonstrate against clinics there;

• that many of the people who are influential in the antiabortion movement have historical and sometimes current ties to white-supremacist groups - for example, John Burt, the "ex-Klansman" from Pensacola who was also involved with Paul Hill and Michael Griffin;

• that identifiable trends exist in the rise and decline of violence. Basically, whenever anti-abortionists believe they can stop abortion through political means, as they did during the early years of the Reagan and Bush presidencies, abortion violence declines. When they feel that peaceful avenues of protest are restricted, they turn to violence. Those anti-abortion forces willing to do the direct actions described below have been growing rapidly since 1986, fueled by Republican administrations that helped legitimize their belief that abortion should be outlawed.

The most alarming recent trend has to do with the fact that peaceful protesters have been replaced by those who prefer to use violence to stop abortion. Many who simply prayed to end abortion have been turned off by the ugly aggressiveness of current antiabortion tactics, such as the harassment of doctors at home and the dumping of foulsmelling chemicals inside clinics. This has dried up the funds these contributors provided and diminished the number of people willing to do civil disobedience and go to jail, Thus, the anti-abortion movement has been forced to change tactics over the past decade, escalating from arson and kidnapping to murder.

Those of us who would do significant opposition research on the anti-abortion movement are hampered by the lack of information about this vigilante subculture - as well as about the conspiracy theories that animate the movement. We need to know more in order to recognize and predict which kinds of assaults to expect in a given area. Which leads to

Rule 1: You have to research adversaries' political rhetoric as well as their demographic characteristics.


There are four primary types of anti-abortion groups with which you should be familiar. Although movement among groups can be quite fluid, opposition research to date reveals:

Lobby-oriented Christian groups, such as the Christian Coalition or Concerned Women of America, that give priority to abortion on a larger laundry list of social concerns. They organize primarily to influence the electorate. Recent promotional material from the Christian Coalition claims 1.7 million members but, interestingly, did not mention any specific issues they support, thanks to a makeover by executive director Ralph Reed, who holds that supporting narrow, single issues weakens the coalition. If you believe their direct mail, they are becoming pro-life moderates. Instead, the coalition promises voter registration, education, and political mobilization in a campaign to raise $7 million.

Mainstream religious groups, such as Lutherans for Life or Catholics United for Life, that focus primarily on abortion and whose activities may include lobbying, educational forums, and picketing. These groups provide most of the foot soldiers for clinic blockades and have traditionally been the "nickel and dime" supporters of the anti-abortion movement. However, their influence appears to be waning as their peaceful means of protest are eschewed for more confrontational methods. Frequently, people who increase levels of violence begin as peaceful protesters at clinics.

Confrontational-style groups and action leaders who use direct-action tactics (mainly threats and harassment) to claim that abortion is murder - examples are Joe Scheidler of Pro-Life Action League; Randall Terry, Flip Benham, and Jeff White of Operation Rescue; John Burt and Don Treshman of Rescue America; and David Crane of the American Coalition of Life Activists. Of particular concern is Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics, Inc., who wrote the book Firestorm detailing ways to harass doctors through malpractice litigation, as well as through more terroristic methods such as bombs. His new book, Lime 5, purports to expose how the government and media deny the "2,500 abortion malpractice cases" he claims to have uncovered.

Are You the Undercover Type?

I must warn you: Not everyone is cut out to be an opposition researcher. If you're a person who likes to talk a lot and tell everyone your business, you're probably very nice and interesting, but please - don't try to infiltrate an antiabortion meeting, because you'll instantly be uncovered.

If your memory isn't so hot - if you have trouble recalling what you ate last night - you aren't well-equipped to keep necessary mounds of nefarious details in your head, so don't even try.

Finally, please keep in mind that doing opposition research can be fun. You must keep your sense of humor. Many people engage in this work with a heavy intent, taking themselves too seriously and losing perspective. That said, you may end up immersing yourself in some pretty ugly stuff, and if you are not clear about who you are, why you are doing the work, and how much fun life really is, you will probably end up stressed out and depressed and of little use to the pro-choice movement.
- L.I.R.

Some confrontational anti-abortionists are so dangerous they turn on each other. For example, Barbara Lyons of Wisconsin Right to Life reported anti-abortionist Robert Cook to the authorities because, as she was quoted as having said in the Chicago Tribune, "the things he said caused us some concerns." Cook was found guilty in January 1996 on charges of "stealing $260,000 and using the money to purchase weapons, and attempting to assemble an army of men to attack abortion clinics across the country."

Operations like the Lambs of Christ and Missionaries to the Preborn serve as clearinghouses for those dedicated activists who make blocking clinics their lifework. Unlike local activists who can only muster enough courage to go to jail once or twice, the Lambs and the Missionaries provide a course of action for those who have less to lose. They are "Professional Rescuers" who go from place to place, blocking clinic access, locking themselves to concrete blocks, or invading clinics and destroying equipment. They are frequently unemployed, homeless, or transient. Their leaders tend to frequent militia meetings and use a paramilitary style of organizing.

Violent vigilante networks made up primarily of lone individuals who resort to tactics such as arson, bombing, physical assault, and murder. Examples include John Salvi, Paul Hill, and Shelly Shannon, who attempted to murder Dr. George Tiller in 1993. These people come from the militant wing of the Protestant and Catholic anti-abortion movement or, like Paul DeParrie, the militia movement. They may be believers in the Phineas Priesthood, a violent network of people from the far right dedicated to using violence to stop abortion and other "crimes against the white race."

There are, of course, tactical differences between antiabortionists who use legal means to achieve their ends and those dedicated as much to violence as to their religious zealotry. But the movement's strength lies much in the groups' ability to change their tactics and adapt to shifting political winds. Groups that lobby one day may picket the next. John Salvi, Shelley Shannon, Paul Hill, and Michael Griffin all started out as demonstrators in front of clinics who later became violent vigilantes.


There is a strong thread of anti-Semitism and racism in the conspiracy theories of both lobbying-oriented groups and the violent vigilantes. It is found in their conspiracy theories about Jewish elites secretly controlling America and the accusation that most doctors who perform abortions are Jews who wish to exterminate the white (Aryan) race.

Even if the people you research seem fanatical or, on the other hand, quite ordinary, remember that they are usually influenced in some way by the belief that they are fighting a battle on two fronts: against the "elites" (usually identified as Jewish) who allegedly control society, and poor people and people of color who, they believe, are lazy, immoral, and undeserving of society's benefits and compassion.

For example, anti-abortionist Larry Wayne Crow was arrested in New Mexico on charges that he and three others conspired to bomb abortion clinics, gay bars, and welfare offices. According to reports in Life Advocate (the most popular anti-abortion magazine: read it), Crow has been a member of a militia group in South Dakota. Convicted Massachusetts murderer John Salvi was known to complain about people on welfare and to believe in "One World Government" conspiracy theories expounded in the pages of The New American, the magazine published by the John Birch Society.

Research reveals that the most violent anti-abortion vigilantes often have crossed paths with someone from the fascist right who helps them learn the terrorist tactics most frequently used by racists: bombings, assassination, and threats. As the transcript of Shelly Shannon's trial shows, by 1991 Shannon had begun to correspond with prison inmates listed in the publication Prisoners of Christ, including convicted burglars, arsonists, and kidnappers, such as Don Benny Anderson, Marjorie Reed, John Brockhoeft, and Tom Spinks - all anti-abortion protesters who became violent criminals, making the transition from peaceful protest to violent acts and, in the process, converting others like Shannon.

The violent anti-abortionists are also influenced by the extreme rhetoric of the Christian Reconstructionist movement, a form of dominion theology that overtly advocates the overthrow of the current government and imposition of their version of a Christian society, in which men rule by the Bible rather than the laws of a civil society. The Christian Reconstructionists are the link between the militant direct-action wing of the anti-abortion movement and the farright, church-based theocratic movement. According to the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights (BAYCORR), a member of Operation Rescue California was seen distributing Christian Identity materials at a meeting sponsored by Christian Action Ministries in San Jose. Christian Identity is a religion favored by members of the Aryan Nations, Ku Klux Klan, and the paramilitary right. Literature from the far-right U.S. Taxpayers Party, a militia group, is also frequently available.

The direct-action-style groups may use a cadre style of organizing: small secretive cells of people who form an inner circle that directs the activities of the larger group. This is called the "Minuteman Strategy," which carefully screens prospective members but performs most of the clinic surveillance and terrorism.

Research and Data Collection

Excellent information is available directly from the antiabortion movement. This will involve a modest financial investment from several hundred to several thousand dollars, depending on the scale of your operation.


It's best to start by establishing a post office box, a mail drop, to receive the adversaries' propaganda.

Rule 2: Maintain your anonymity to protect your privacy.

Since I didn't want to lie to the federal government by opening a box under a fictitious name, I opened the box legally through a friend who didn't mind lending her name to the cause. This allowed me to have an untraceable method of receiving the anti-abortion information without revealing my identity.

I've found that the anti-abortionists sell (or give) their mailing lists to other groups. What is even more scary, in my post office box I've received correspondence from the FBI saying my post office name has appeared on various mailing lists ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to ultra-conservative Republicans like Pat Buchanan. Since these groups appear to cooperate behind closed doors, it is vital that your identity be completely shielded.

After opening the mail drop, the next step in the datacollection process is to get on their mailing lists, usually with a small financial contribution. You can contact a longterm researcher to obtain the names of the magazines, newsletters, and organizations that are best to subscribe to or join. By building on the work that has preceded you, you can save time and money by carefully selecting those organizations that work in or report on your region of the country. However, you do want to keep an eye on several national groups, like Operation Rescue National or Advocates for Life Ministries.

Joining or subscribing is simple. Investigate the rates and send a money order, carefully using your post office name. They frequently ask for sizable contributions, $25 or $50, but I've found that a smaller amount, say $10 or $15, is quickly accepted and starts the junk mail process.

Don't send in all your subscriptions or requests for information at the same time - space them out. Given the communications and overlap, you don't want to flood them with requests from the same person and set off alarm bells! On the other hand, don't be concerned if it takes a few weeks or even months to get a response from some of the groups. Sometimes they respond very quickly, depending on the size of their staff and resources. Others can take several months to respond. If it takes more than 60 days, a follow-up letter may speed up the process.


Another important aspect of data collection is keeping good visual records of people who demonstrate in front of clinics. A good camera with black-and-white film should be used every time there is a demonstration. Try to get head shots of people to create a local "mug book" of repeat demonstrators. Slowly, you will be able to identify the photos. Other researchers around the country can assist in the identification process. Often, demonstrators claim before a judge that their latest arrest is only their first. Efficient visual records can belie these claims and result in stiffer sentences.

How to Infiltrate

Another excellent way to collect data is to monitor their meetings and conferences. It is best to start with their most public activities at first. Attending a local or national meeting of the Christian Coalition, Human Life International, or Collegians Activated to Liberate Life (CALL) is relatively simple. Once you are on their mailing lists, you will receive invitations to these types of events. You may choose to attend them yourself, but I suggest that you find a dedicated volunteer to whom to delegate this responsibility, preferably someone who is not publicly identified with your organization.

This volunteer monitor needs to be someone who is steady, not talkative, and presents a rather mainstream appearance. Don't laugh - the people who attend these meetings don't have pierced noses or shaved skulls. They tend to look like bankers in suits or housewives in polyester with perms.

Rule 3: The volunteer monitor must blend in with a clean-cut, youngRepublican look - not stand out.

I've found that women are better infiltrators than men. Perhaps it's sexism, but men are quite talkative to women they are trying to impress. A knowledge of fundamentalist religious jargon is also useful. A churchgoing, young, or middle-aged white woman is probably the best choice for monitoring. If she has a sweet Southern accent, all the better!

Because the antis are alert to the possibility of infiltration, they have established some security precautions. If you are asked to submit your social security number or other identifying data, back off! Don't start monitoring this particular conference until you have a strategy for dealing with this.

You may have to make a decision about housing or roommates at some conferences. It is ideal to have a single room. If you have a roommate, this means that you must pose day and night, a difficult front to maintain.

Once you have registered for the conference, do basically what they say. Attend the workshops and plenaries on time. Take copious notes on who speaks and what they say. A tape recorder or camera may be helpful if you see others in the audience using them. Visual audience surveys are also useful; how many men, women, people of color, children, etc. are there?

Rule 4: Be accurate.

Don't just assume that because someone is scheduled to speak on a panel that the person actually showed up. Double-check everything, so that you don't damage the integrity of your research with an error of laziness.

Make sure you check out the literature displays, which are often an indication of cross-pollination from other organizations. For example, militia information may be available, or books and pamphlets outlining the next terroristic strategy. Try to obtain as much of this information as possible, given your resources. Most of it will be free, so help yourself.

Once you start attending the large public gatherings, opportunities will eventually present themselves to participate in smaller, more private meetings. For example, some of my volunteers attended a local meeting of Operation Rescue types and ended up in a strategy meeting planning the next clinic siege. While the antis are quite cagey and secretive about exactly when they will attack a clinic, time and repetition of your volunteers' presence increases the amount of information available to you.

Rule 5: Advanced infiltration should be done Only by experienced infiltrators.

In other words, don't become overconfident and believe that you can or should attend high-level strategy meetings or secretly obtain information such as conference registration lists. And don't expect infiltration to expose the violent vigilantes. These types usually operate in a netherworld that is not discussed at a public meeting.

Another danger at this point is that monitors can be swept up in an I Spy atmosphere of excitement and paranoia. Be warned - this is nothing more than a false power trip that can jeopardize you and your goal. Remember, you are there to do a job, not to believe their hype or your own. The information you collect is not yours to hoard. Your obligation is to share it with your organization, perhaps on a "need to know" basis, but not to assume that your inside track should give you more privilege or power. You must keep perspective!

Where to Report What You Learn

Keeping track of the information you collect and getting it into the right hands is just as important as obtaining it. First of all, make sure your organization is willing to devote sufficient resources to establishing and maintaining a highquality archive and research operation. Creating a computerized database is very helpful, and models are available from other opposition researchers. (An excellent Opposition Intelligence Tool Kit is available from the Pro-Choice Resource Center, 174 E. Boston Post Rd., Mamaroneck, NY 10543.)

Review your accumulated information to attempt to answer these questions:

• What are their funding sources? Does it undermine the group's reputation to expose them? Can a money trail be created to be used against anti-choice legislators who receive funds from nefarious sources? Can their tactics be linked to other hate groups to discredit them?

• What do you know about the backgrounds of the heads of the organizations? Who are their affiliates? Can their strategies be linked to an overall movement to dismantle civil-rights gains?

• Your research should eventually tell you the names of organizations operating in your area, what type of organization they are, an estimation of their numbers, their church affiliation, racial diversity, their meeting frequency, the ways they publicize their activities, and what types of activities they choose to do.

Once you have accumulated this information, you have to decide what to do with it. Release it to the media? Give to police? Include in a newsletter? Share with other pro-choice activists? Share with other researchers around the country? Assume that the people you watch are also watching you. These decisions are best made collectively, with advocates, clinic staff, and supporters all on the same page.

Rule 6: You don't want to release information that has been unverified or is potentially libelous.

You also don't want to compromise your sources. But you do want to know just as much about the folks who harass you as they know about you. Now you can start.

LORETTA J. ROSS is executive director of the National Center for Human Rights Education, a training and resource center for grassroots activists, based in Atlanta, Georgia. She organized the first national conference on Women of Color and Reproductive Rights and is currently writing a book on the black women's movement entitled Black Women and Abortion.

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