Many of you remember the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a Wichita late-term abortion provider, in May 2009. His killer, Scott Roeder, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole for fifty years in April 2010. A new development in the Tiller murder investigation may determine whether or not Roeder acted alone or in collaboration with other anti-abortion extremists.
According to an article in the Kansas City Star, a federal investigation is focusing on a Bible study group that Roeder attended before the murder. One member, who asked not to be named, insisted that the Bible study group was not part of the extremist anti-abortion movement and that it had no involvement in any conspiracy. The investigation is ongoing.
The Kansas City Star article states that pro-choice advocates have been urging the Justice Department to investigate possible networks of anti-abortion extremists, especially those involved in violence against clinics and doctors. Justin Carl Moose, who was accused of posting bomb instructions and advocating anti-abortion violence on his Facebook page, was cited as one recent case of extremist anti-abortion networking. Moose claimed to belong to the Army of God, a Christian extremist group that has claimed responsibility for anti-abortion acts of terrorism in the U.S.
I think it is wise for federal agents to investigate Roeder's circle to determine if he collaborated with any other extremists. In a prescient article at Ms. Magazine, Amanda Robb discusses whether or not Roeder acted alone when he murdered George Tiller. Robb notes Roeder's involvement with radical Christian groups such as the Freemen militia and Operation Rescue, as well as anti-abortion extremists such as Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon and Michael Bray, indicating that he did not operate in an ideological vacuum.
Whether Roeder acted alone or participated in a collaborative conspiracy remains to be seen. However, his case is a reminder that extremists do not operate in vacuums, but receive encouragement and ideas from larger communities. If we want to effectively combat extremist violence, we must not only focus on violent individuals, but in the social and ideological networks that support them.