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Anthrax Reborn

The abortion war continues. George W. Bush declared January 20 to be National Sanctity of Human Life Day, stating that “Unborn children should be welcomed in life and protected in law.”

And, on another front, the National Abortion Federation announced that, since January 12, letters containing a white powder were received by 21 abortion clinics from Fullerton to Florida and by the group‘s Washington headquarters. The contents of most of the letters have been tested, and were found not to contain anthrax. The letters came in the wake of more than 500 anthrax threats sent to abortion clinics since last October.

Long before bio-terrorism brought hysteria to American mailboxes last fall, abortion providers had grown used to fearing their mail. Abortion clinics have been receiving letters claiming to contain anthrax since as far back as 1998, lending credence to suspicions that October’s still-unsolved fatal anthrax attacks had a domestic source, particularly given the close ties between some anti-abortionists and other violent right-wing groups.

Last October, 280 abortion clinics received envelopes bearing a return address from either the U.S. Secret Service or the U.S. Marshals Service, containing a white powder and a letter stating, “You have been exposed to anthrax.” Those letters were signed by “The Army of God,” a shadowy anti-abortion group that has taken credit for many violent acts against abortion providers over the years, including kidnapping, arson and murder. The letters tested negative for anthrax. The following month, another 270 Federal Express packages were sent to clinics, again falsely claiming to contain anthrax. That batch gave either the National Abortion Federation (NAF) or Planned Parenthood as return addresses, on the logic, said NAF director Vicki Saporta, that “You don‘t open letters from people you don’t know.”

Whoever sent out the most recent miniwave of threat letters employed the a same tactic. The return addresses belonged to an Omaha abortion clinic. They bore an Omaha postmark dated January 12 and began arriving at the beginning of last week. “We got one yesterday,” Saporta said in an interview last Thursday. “We put out an alert. We didn‘t open ours here. It was immediately bagged,” she said, and handed over to the FBI.

That letter, said NAF spokesperson Alyssa Barnum, was “not signed ’The Army of God‘ and doesn’t seem to be along the same lines” as previous letters. It contained no explicit threats, only a page-long, somewhat disjointed statement arguing against pro-choice positions. “The Jews didn‘t choose to be killed in ovens,” the letter states, “and babies don’t choose abortion.”

It is unlikely that these most recent letters have the same source as last fall‘s mass mailing. Clayton Waagner, a self-proclaimed anti-abortion “terrorist” who escaped from an Illinois jail in September, has claimed responsibility for the previous rash of letters. Waagner, who once promised, “It doesn’t matter to me if you‘re a nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper or janitor, if you work for the murderous abortionist, I’m going to kill you,” dropped in on the Georgia home of Neal Horsley while on the run from police late last November. Horsley hosts the infamous “Nuremberg Files” Web site, which has listed the names and home addresses of doctors who perform abortions, striking with a black line the names of those who‘ve been murdered. Horsley recorded a conversation in which Waagner took credit for the anthrax threats sent last fall, and said he intended to kill 42 abortion providers. Waagner’s plans were foiled when he was arrested in early December after being recognized by an employee at a Cincinnati Kinko‘s. The FBI has yet to file charges related to the October and November anthrax-hoax mailings.

Though none of the anthrax threats sent to clinics since 1998 have actually contained anthrax, the murders of seven clinic employees and dozens of clinic bombings and arsons over the last decade convince the NAF’s Saporta to take the threatening letters seriously. “If they were able to obtain anthrax,” she said, “they wouldn‘t hesitate to use it.”

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