While on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum, anti-abortion extremists and eco-terrorists share a common apocalyptic worldview—violent means justify desired ends.
Speaking to reporters at the Florida State Prison the day before his scheduled execution for the 1994 shotgun slayings of a doctor, who provided abortions, and his driver, Paul Hill said his actions to save unborn children were justified.
“It doesn’t take long to realize that killing a mass murderer under those circumstances is a reasonable thing to do,” Hill said. “I believe and trust the Lord will use my actions to save innocent children.”
Anti-abortion Web sites, such as the Army of God’s, call Hill “a true American hero” and carry pictures of and articles about him.
The same day as Hill’s press conference, SUVs were damaged at a Houston dealership, in an attack similar to those a week before in San Diego, where SUVs and Hummers were spray-painted and torched.
Graffiti on California vehicles read, “Fat lazy Americans” and “I love pollution.” The letters ELF were scrawled on one vehicle, apparently referring to Earth Liberation Front.
A month earlier, also in San Diego, a fire at a condominium complex caused $50 million in damage. A banner at the scene read, “If you build it—We will burn it—The E.L.F.’s are mad.”
ELF’s Web site says one of its objectives is, “To inflict economic damage on those profiting from the destruction and exploitation of the natural environment.”
While ELF urges its followers “to take all necessary precautions against harming any animal, human and non-human,” the group’s members have reportedly threatened people. And one of its former spokespersons recently said, “The threat to the life of the planet is so severe that political violence must be understood as a viable option.”
The Army of God, on the other hand, honors as Christian martyrs activists who take the lives of those who provide abortions.
Aside from this difference over the taking of human life, ELF and the Army of God are remarkably similar.
Both thrive in secrecy. ELF has no membership list, defines itself as an “underground movement consisting of autonomous groups” and communicates with the media primarily through e-mail. “The Army of God Manual,” an anonymous book for “the covert activist”–who is also called a “termite” and said to represent the “remnant”–urges termites to avoid mentioning their activities to other church members.
Both favor direct action. ELF says, “Words mean nothing, action is everything.” The Army of God criticizes gossipy church folk and meetings in church to discuss issues. Living the Christian life is what is important.
Both criticize the mainstream movements from which they have splintered. An ELF press release in January said, “Despite decades of popular environmental activism, the mainstream environmental movement…has failed in its attempt to bring about the protection needed to stop the destruction of life on this planet.”
In an article urging anti-abortionists to come to Starke, Fla., for Hill’s execution, an author associated with the Army of God criticized the mainstream pro-life organizations for opposing rescue efforts and referred to the appeasement of pro-life leaders.
Both possess a rigid clarity about their cause, although they root their morality in different sources. ELF says its individuals are “driven only by their personal conscience.” The Army of God reads the Bible selectively and interprets it literally.
Both anti-abortion and environmental terrorists share one other common trait. Their crusade mentality blinds them from the truth that the harm they do far out outweighs the change they seek. Neither understands that violence is never a virtue and that wheels of social change grind slowly.
Robert Parham is the executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.