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.

For Dreste, Ryan was a mentor. And from Ryan, Dreste began to learn that doing God's work, and doing it well, meant strategizing to overcome the rules of a secular society.

Ryan taught that anything they as protesters could do within the law to keep a woman from walking into that clinic was acceptable, including the infamous clinic blockades. "And it was working," Dreste recalls, "because it allowed our counselors a longer time on the sidewalk to talk with the girls. I mean, you get 30 seconds to one minute to talk to these girls, but if you've got a lot of people blocking the door, you have more time. If you can just talk to them for a few minutes, there's good chance you can get through to them."

Soon the pacifist, civil-disobedience movement transformed itself into an active "rescue mission," using Proverbs 24:11 as its key verse: "Deliver those who are being taken away to death/And those who are staggering to slaughter/O hold them back." For Dreste, and for his church, the next verse in Proverbs is equally significant: "And will He not render to man according to his work?"

The abortion-clinic rescue was Dreste's work, and he toiled diligently. "The whole idea of a rescue," he explains, "is that you have some people doing the sit-in part of it; you've got sidewalk counselors who are talking to the girls as they're coming in; you've got picketers and people praying. It's essential to have all of those elements together. It's highly coordinated. It's not just people going out there sitting in. It was very effective."

It is unclear just how many "rescues" were accomplished. What was clear was how the actions galvanized the anti-abortion movement. "With more and more people getting arrested, we got more media exposure and made it an issue. It was similar to the civil-rights movement. For people in the civil-rights movement, it was always an issue, but it wasn't an issue with the public until someone started making noise about it, getting arrested and stuff, which would cause the media to ask, 'Why are they getting arrested?' and you'd get the opportunity to explain."

Dreste's first arrest came soon after he joined the Pro-Life Action League, and when they dragged him off to the precinct office and asked him for his name, he decided to answer everything in Portuguese -- anything to further clog up the system. When they asked whether he spoke any English at all, Dreste answered, "A leetle bit," justifying his answer by the fact that he probably only knew about 10 percent of the words in Webster's dictionary anyway.

The movement was transforming rapidly, and St. Louis was in the thick of it all. Ryan was organizing dozens of major protests and leading a national movement to do whatever it took to stop abortions, but by 1986, his escalating activism cooled all support from mainstream anti-abortion groups such as Missouri Citizens for Life and the St. Louis Roman Catholic archdiocese, which wanted to keep their distance from the more militant segment.

Back at Dreste's own church, feelings were mixed. Though the congregation supported in spirit what Dreste's movement was trying to do, they weren't completely comfortable with the way it was being done. "He was a man that had such definite convictions and was accepting the consequences of his convictions," says Dave Cordes, a longtime family friend and fellow church member. "He was very active in trying to protect the unborn, and while I want to do that, too, we're not all out of the same die, so there's disagreement to what extent we should go."

The church prayed for Dreste anyway, because this was his mission. But it was a mission that was also part of a national political movement spiraling toward what some would later call domestic terrorism, with 133 acts of violence reported in 1986 -- including vandalism, death threats and arson -- acted out against abortion providers, according to statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation.

It's 7 a.m., and the first of the anti-abortion protesters gather in front of the Hope Clinic for Women in the heart of Granite City, Ill. The two-story, concrete-block building is boxed in on all sides by factories, a VFW hall and bright-yellow strips of police security tape that, depending on where you stand, mark off where goodness ends and evil begins.

In the clinic's front parking lot, a half-dozen orange-vested volunteer escorts stand in pairs chatting, drinking coffee and trying not to look at the people slowly gathering behind the yellow tape around them. The escorts, like the security tape, the armed guards and the bulletproof glass in the building, are there for a reason.

Tim Dreste is a big part of that reason, though if you ask him whether the clinic employees have reason to be afraid, he answers that if they weren't doing what they were doing, you wouldn't have to ask.

"Tim Dreste is one of the regulars," says Tracy McCreery, a volunteer escort for the Missouri NARAL Foundation. "He's pretty easy to pick out. He wears a camouflage jacket and says some pretty outrageous things. He's almost like a local hero for the other side."

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