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.

Heated arguments followed in the organization about whether killing abortion doctors was justifiable homicide. Some said it was, some said it wasn't, and still others, like Dreste, refused to condemn or justify the violence. What mattered to him, says Dreste, was that the edict was issued without the membership's being consulted. In his mind, Operation Rescue was operating now like the U.S. government, with little respect for the constituency and its views.

Dreste suggested that some of the groups gather in St. Louis to talk about forming a new organization, which materialized in August 1994 as the American Coalition of Life Advocates (ACLA). Headed by David Crane, who publicly supported murdering abortion providers in the name of life, the fledgling group held its 1995 annual convention in St. Louis.

For abortion providers in the area, word of the convention came like a dreaded late-night telegram. Dr. Robert Crist, who lived in Kansas City but flew once a week to St. Louis to practice, recalled in later testimony that he was contacted by St. Louis police officials, who warned him that extra security measures would have to be taken. He had, after all, been the earlier target of numerous death threats, and in 1993, in the middle of the night, a single shot from a 12-gauge shotgun shattered two windows in his son's playroom.

In order to get to the St. Louis clinic the week of the ACLA convention, Crist was picked up at his home by two Kansas City policemen and taken to the airport's security area; then he boarded the plane from the tarmac, before any other passengers got on. Two armed security officers stood at the front of the plane until it took off, and before the plane landed in St. Louis, all the passengers were told to stay seated until Crist was escorted off the plane by four undercover St. Louis police officers. Crist was then whisked to the clinic in one car with two officers while the other two followed in an unmarked car. Outside the clinic, as Crist worked, three uniformed policemen and six plainclothes officers stood by.

Meanwhile, at the convention, Dreste unveiled what would later be dubbed the "Wanted" poster, which showed a photograph of Crist below the words "GUILTY of Crimes Against Humanity." Below, Dreste listed Crist's home and work addresses, enumerated his "crimes" and then, in a bold black font, issued a $500 reward. Underneath, in very small print, Dreste added that the reward would be issued to any ACLA organization that "successfully persuades Crist to turn from his child killing through activities within ACLA guidelines."

But the group's guidelines didn't take a position on justifiable homicide, only that members could not engage in any form of protest that required "more force than allowed by First Amendment protected activities." After Newt Gingrich's Republican Revolution of November '94 and its "Contract with America," the ACLA issued its "Contract with the Abortion Industry" in 1995, stating that abortion was murder and that the Bible required capital punishment by civil magistrates for murder.

To complicate matters, similar posters had been circulated before the murders of several other abortion providers, and a petition was being circulated at the convention justifying the violence. Many of the ACLA's leaders signed the petition, though Dreste declined to do so.

The ACLA also presented its "Deadly Dozen" list at the St. Louis conference, which, like Dreste's poster, cryptically accused 12 abortion providers of "crimes against humanity" and offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to their arrest, conviction and revocation of license to practice medicine. "Abortion was provided as a choice for East European Jewish women by the (Nazi) National Socialist regime," the list stated, "and was prosecuted during the Nuremberg trials (1945-46) under allied control order No. 10 as a 'war crime.'"

Back at the clinic, Crist was informed that the poster and the list were being passed out in the clinic's parking lot and tacked to telephone poles and trees by overflow protesters from the convention. "The police informed me that this was a serious threat," Crist later testified, "and that I should be seriously concerned about my safety." One policeman, Crist testified, told him: "Doctor, in my estimation, this is a contract on your life."

Dreste says the posters and the list, like the neighborhood protests, were ways of embarrassing, not scaring, the doctors out of business. "I didn't do it to intimidate them," Dreste says. "I don't see how it can be intimidation to tell the world what a person does."

The world, however, saw the poster and the "Deadly Dozen" flyer as nothing less than the hit lists of thugs. Because similar posters and lists had been issued earlier on doctors who were later murdered, the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service contacted everyone on the posters and lists issued by the ACLA and urged them to take precautions.

Four months later, in early 1996, the ACLA took another bold step by announcing in Washington, D.C., the creation of the "Nuremberg Files." At that point, the files were boxes holding photographs and information about abortion providers across the country that would be held by the group in the event abortion ever became illegal. The information, the activists believed, could then be used to prosecute, and presumably execute, the people whose names were contained in the boxes.

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