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.

Dreste himself took one more step toward realizing that goal of making abortion illegal by becoming the Republican committeeman for Normandy Township, where he lived, and by joining the Republican State Central Committee, the policy-making body of the party.

Democrats on the sidelines didn't know whether to snicker or run for the cellar. "Here's this guy, a member of a paramilitary right-wing organization, i.e., the First Missouri Volunteers, that's related to white supremacist and violent activity, sitting on the state committee," says John Hickey, director of Missouri Progressive Vote, a group that actively campaigned against Dreste when he ran for state representative. "He's a member of the most extreme arm of the anti-choice movement who uses threats of violence and murder to make up for what he loses at the ballot box. Unbelievable."

But Dreste never flinched. That year, he didn't think twice about telling the state GOP that it should add to its platform a murder penalty for all "abortionists, perpetrators of euthanasia and those who assist others in suicide."

One year later, the Nuremberg Files were placed on the Internet by anti-abortion activist Neal Horsley, a computer programmer from Carrollton, Ga. At first the ACLA's name was published on the site, but later, at the group's request, it was removed. The bell had already been rung, though. Around the globe, people identified the ACLA with a Web site that called abortion clinics "baby butcher shops," and printed pictures of aborted fetuses that looked like mangled aliens. The site asked readers to collect "evidence" against abortion providers, including photos, videotapes, car makes and models, addresses, names of friends, phone numbers, Social Security numbers and the names and birthdates of spouses and children. It then printed the information alongside photos of the physicians in question.

The most frightening aspect of the site was the list of abortion supporters, including doctors, clinic employees, relatives, judges and politicians whose names were printed in black if they were still alive, gray if they had been wounded and crossed through with a line if they had been killed. Left unsaid was the implication that more names needed to be crossed out. The rhetoric on the Web site was less subtle: "We can end the Abortion War if we ran the images of the babies being slaughtered into the minds of every citizen in this nation. Ram those images into their minds until the vast majority is ready to vomit out legalized abortion like Caesar vomited out the ancient church when he was moved to repentance by images of countless, unremitting, endless carcasses of God's children."

For the rest of the world, enough had become enough. From 1994-96, four more clinic employees were murdered and 10 more attempts made. By this time, the number of clinic bombings had climbed to 32 and the stalking of providers to 323.

At a Taco Bell in Granite City, Dreste hunkers down over a blank piece of paper, mapping the layout of the room in the U.S. District Court in Portland, Ore., where, at the beginning of this year, he spent two solid months of his life. "Everything was pretty high-tech," he explains, circling the pen over the paper. "Each of the jurors and the lawyers had monitors in front of them. There was a gag order on all of us, so we couldn't talk to the press, and the media was banned from the courtroom.

"Our attorneys were over here" -- he draws two squares marked with "D" for "defendant" -- "and theirs were over here" -- two more squares, each bearing a "P" for "plaintiff."

The suit -- initiated back in 1995 by Planned Parenthood of Columbia/ Willamette, the Portland Feminist Women's Health Center and four physicians, including Crist -- charged that the defendants knew that the posters, lists and Web sites posed a threat to the abortion providers but continued to publish them anyway. Therefore, they argued, the defendants were violating FACE and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

As with the FACE laws passed back in 1993, the pro-choice side was firing back with the lawsuit, and this time they had Dreste specifically in their sights.

The case was heard by U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones, a 23-year trial veteran who told eight unnamed jurors that they were to decide whether three "statements" made by the defendants -- the "Nuremberg Files" Web site, the "Deadly Dozen" list and Dreste's "Crimes Against Humanity" poster -- were "true threats" against the plaintiffs. If they were true threats, he warned, they were not protected under the First Amendment.

Time and again, the court transcripts show, Judge Jones repeated the definition of a "true threat" for the jury. "I am going to run it by you one more time," he'd say. "It's a statement that would be interpreted by the person to whom it is communicated as a serious expression of intent to inflict harm or assault." And time and again, Jones reiterated that "this is not a case about abortion or about whether abortion should be legalized or whether it shouldn't be or when it should happen. Do you understand that? This is strictly a case as to whether or not these words that were used are protected free speech or not."

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