The Conviction of Tim Dreste

Tim Dreste's journey from Christian missionary to anti-abortion racketeer cost him a $6 million federal fine for his role in threatening to "kill, assault or do bodily harm" to abortion providers. But he isn't about to stop his crusade.

It's downtime for Tim Dreste, here in these woods that are 57 paved miles, a long gravel road and three left-hand turns on a dirt road west of St. Louis. As he gingerly pries open the lid of the 3-foot-tall honey super, a whirl of maddened Carniolan bees lifts up from the hive like a slow-motion air assault around him. He's fairly safe for now under a cowboy hat, long-sleeved shirt, heavy gloves and black netting, but he strategically reverses the Suzuki SUV on the narrow dirt path, leaving it pointed toward home, keys in the ignition. "Just in case," he says.

Today Dreste is searching for the queen, the elusive mistress of the hive, because if he doesn't find her and clip her wings, she'll sabotage the politics of the colony and his 2-year-old hobby as well. The bees' natural tendency is to divide the hive, Dreste explains, but if he finds the queen and snips her wings, she won't be able to defect with a swarm.

He gently slides a bee-stuccoed frame from its slot, and a complaint rises like heat from the depths of the hive. "You've got to move slow and not distract them too much," he says, slowly reaching down for a handheld smoker, which, for some reason, is supposed to calm them down. "They aren't in too bad of a mood today."

All in all, he figures, he's been stung about 50 times in the last two years, only about a third as many times as he's been arrested. In these four hives alone, there are 200,000 bees, and if he had a $20 bill for every single one, Dreste still wouldn't have enough money to pay off the most recent judgment against him.

It's been two months since the end of the latest and most notorious trial, officially Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc.; et al. vs. American Coalition of Life Activists; et al but more commonly known as the "Nuremberg Files case" or "that trial in Oregon," and Dreste thought a day away from the city, the publicity and the legal hassles might do him some good. He accepts the consequences of what he's done, for what he believes he's been chosen by God to do, but the costs, both physical and mental, are adding up these days.

In addition to more than a decade of arrests, jail time, fines and more arrests, the 40-year-old St. Louis native has now been officially, federally and forevermore labeled a racketeer who co-conspired and threatened to kill, assault or do bodily harm to physicians who provide abortions.

It was a federal trial watched around the country because its outcome would draw new boundaries around what was considered protected political speech. It was also followed closely by abortion opponents, who for years fought the legality of Roe vs. Wade, and by abortion providers, who for years lived in fear for their lives.

The defendants, two anti-abortion groups and 12 individuals, including Dreste, were not charged with any of the 40 clinic bombings or seven murders that took place in the U.S. between 1983 and 1999, but they were accused by two abortion-rights groups and four abortion providers of setting off some of that violence through the use of Web sites, literature and posters. Dreste, in the middle of it all, was implicated in highly coordinated campaigns and conspiracies that the court found to be "true threats" not sheltered by the First Amendment.

Before the federal trial, Dreste rode tall on the reputation he had garnered: domestic terrorist, religious fanatic, paramilitary right-wing nut -- in short, a royal pain in the posterior of the pro-choice movement. But this latest charge against him, the federal order and injunction, well, he just needed a day away.

He comes to these woods often, for the bees or to hunt wild turkey and deer. He learned to shoot when he was 13, aimed at floating balloons on a pond, but for reasons as complex as the political system in the hives around him, he doesn't own a gun anymore.

He has four hives of Carniolan, Italian and Buckfast bees that will produce up to 180 pounds of honey by August, and as he slides the first frame back into the top honey super and pulls another one out, the commotion in the hive grows louder, meaner, like caucusing before a riot.

He pokes at something on the frame. "It's a swarm cell," he says from underneath the black net, "a new queen cell made specifically so they can swarm with the old queen. When you find one of these, you have to cut it open." He jabs at it, and the horde unites in a menacing condemnation heard 50 feet away. Unless he finds the queen soon, the toiling masses will mob. He works his way methodically from one frame to the other. But today it's a fruitless endeavor.

Dreste knows everyone in the Apostolic Christian Church in Hazelwood, not because the tiny seven-pew sanctuary seats a maximum of 30 people but because of those 30 people, half -- maybe more -- are his relatives.

"That man is my uncle," he says one Sunday morning from the back pew, where he operates the small sound board, "and that's his wife, and over there, that's my sister; there's another sister, and that man is a cousin, and those are his kids ... " And there are kids everywhere: in grandparents' laps; scrunched down beneath the pews. A young girl of about 9, the daughter of a cousin of an in-law, hangs adoringly on Dreste's arm.

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