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.

The murder also created a backdrop for abortion providers of fear and resentment. Bulletproof vests were donned, high-tech security systems were installed and police escorts to and from work became the norm. As described in Wrath of Angels, written by James Risen and Judy L. Thomas, "what was left of the movement was dominated by extremists who refused to place any limits on direct action to stop abortion."

Gunn's murder also set the stage for Dreste. Days after the shooting, Dreste went home, made up a new picketing sign and marched over to the Hope Clinic wearing shotgun shells on his hat. On the sign, directed at a doctor inside the building, were big, bold words that shadow Dreste to this day: "DO YOU FEEL UNDER THE GUNN?"

Again Dreste made headlines, but this time they questioned whether the missionary-turned-activist hadn't linked arms with the emerging violent fringe elements of the anti-abortion movement. Dreste dodges that bullet.

"I guess it was using dark humor to get my message across, maybe, but in light of the fact that this was such an explosive issue, I just wanted to ask (the doctor) if he was sure this was something he wanted to do," Dreste says. "I mean, every time a skydiver gets killed, all the other skydivers who know him ask themselves whether they want to continue skydiving or not. I was just using Gunn's death as an opportunity to ask the doctor, 'Is this something you really want to be engaged in?'"

After FACE became law in 1993, rescue, for all political intents and purposes, was dead. Dreste knew it, and others knew it, too. But it didn't stop the protests and only seemed to spur on the violence, directed at the doctors inside the clinics. The new strategy called for instilling fear among the abortion providers rather than persuading the pregnant women to turn around. That August, an anti-abortion activist named Rachelle Shannon shot and wounded Dr. George Tiller at his Wichita clinic; 437 other acts of violence, including 78 death threats and 188 stalkings, were reported nationwide.

Dreste's own resolve grew stronger every day. No matter what the laws now said, no matter how the media responded to the killings, no matter how many complaints he received from his family, his friends or the members of his church, he knew he was doing the right thing. As Ryan said years before, somebody had to inhabit the trenches.

But the old trenches were filled in by the new FACE Act, and Dreste had to figure out where to dig new ones. "Since rescue was dead, more or less, we had to find another way to be effective," Dreste says. "So we started making the abortionists the pariahs of their neighborhoods instead. If you go out and picket their neighborhoods, they scream and holler, and we just say, 'Well, isn't that what you do?'

"You create that social sense within the community so he feels out of place," Dreste continues. "He doesn't want to go to the country club anymore; his neighbors don't see him as just a doctor anymore, they see him as an abortionist. When he feels he's losing face in the community and his reputation is not what it was, a lot of times they'll quit. Our goal was to go after the doctors, to make them decide that if they were going to do this, they were 100 percent committed to it and no matter what, even if they had to live like a monk on a hilltop to do abortions, let them decide if they're that dedicated."

As Dreste's push to end legalized abortion intensified, so did his political activism. For the next three election cycles he ran unsuccessfully as a pro-life Republican trying to unseat Democratic pro-choice state Rep. Rita Days.

But resentment against an unresponsive government, now a larger enemy than before, began constructing in Dreste's heart a firm structure of resolve. He began seeing the government's indifference to abortion and other conservative issues as a sequel to the British government's behavior toward the colonists before the Revolutionary War.

In January 1995, Dreste joined the newly formed First Missouri Volunteers, a private militia formed by members plagued with similar worries that kept them up at night, members of the growing patriot movement. Because of his frustration over the years with mainstream attempts to change the system, joining the militia as its chaplain finally allowed him fellowship with the like-minded.

They were a group on standby, prepared for anything from rescue-relief work to revolution, though they swore as members never to take up arms against the U.S. government -- unless the U.S. government took up arms against the people.

In Dreste's mind, that day is perilously close: "There's a resentment against an unresponsive government. Historically, when that happens, people protest, and the government clamps down on them. They protest more, and the government comes down even harder. In any country where there's a revolt, it's because the government is clamping down harder and harder on the people."

On the abortion front, Operation Rescue was falling apart. After Gunn's murder the year before, the national organization tried to patch up its reputation as an organization infested with violent factions by issuing an ultimatum to its members: Commit to nonviolence or get out.

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