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.

Sitting behind his lawyer in the courtroom, Dreste soon realized that this, like so many other battles in the ongoing war, would probably be lost. He knew the world was watching, and he knew the outcome could change the tactics of his fight against legalized abortion, but as far as he was concerned, everyone in the courtroom, with the exception of the jurors, already knew the story by heart. As his attorney, Michael R. Hirsh of Canton, Ga., now says, it was nothing but a "politically motivated, Planned Parenthood-financed show trial" from the beginning.

Each side was given 36 hours to present its case when the trial opened on Jan. 7. Maria Vullo of New York, the plaintiffs' attorney, outlined why her clients felt threatened by the Web site, the Deadly Dozen list and Dreste's poster and how the defendants unlawfully tried to stop them from providing a legal medical procedure through "utilizing illegal methods of fear, intimidation and terror." She walked the jurors through the murders of three physicians who performed abortions -- David Gunn, George Patterson and John Bayard Britton -- and said that though none of the defendants had been charged with their murders, they all supported and endorsed the killings.

In Gunn's case, Vullo noted, "wanted" posters with Gunn's name, address, photograph and personal information were circulated in Florida and Alabama, where he worked. "It threatened his life, and later he was murdered," Vullo said. She then pointed to Dreste and told the jurors about the sign he held up outside the Granite City clinic. "Just days after Dr. Gunn was murdered, defendant Dreste held up a sign of another doctor he was targeting, asking, 'Are you feeling under the Gunn?'" Vullo then described how similar "wanted" posters were created about Patterson and Britton and how, later, they also were shot and killed.

Said Vullo: "The defendants did not make their threats in a vacuum. They are doing this knowing that doctors have been killed following the issuance of similar posters, and they are doing this knowing that the plaintiffs fear for their lives, because persons, like the defendants, have committed these violent acts in the purported name of God."

Dreste's role in the story was clear. Except for the Nuremberg Files, which he says he didn't know about until long after they were created, Dreste was implicated as part of a nationwide conspiracy to threaten the lives of the plaintiffs. In its deposition summary, the plaintiffs' attorneys also noted that Dreste was a gun enthusiast and member of a private militia, which probably didn't help his case very much.

Hirsh, Dreste's attorney, pointed out that the guns were used for recreational purposes only and that Dreste didn't own any at the present time.

It didn't work. On Feb. 2, the jury found Dreste and the other defendants guilty of illegally threatening the plaintiffs and ordered them to pay $109 million in damages. Of that amount, $6 million was charged to Dreste.

He just shrugs as early afternoon light filters down through a window display advertising Taco Bell's latest special for 99 cents. For Dreste, the verdict was conviction by the guilty: mock judgment, mere words on a page. It was an attempt by the world to trump an omnipotent hand, and was, like every attempt before it, the artless bluffing of amateurs.

Six million dollars. They could have asked him to pay off the Third World's debts and gotten as much. He didn't have it and never would, but if they ever tried to get what little he did have, he'd simply hand it over and go back to where God first called him -- the mission field.

"This was a show trial," Dreste says. "It was meant to scare other people in the pro-life movement. No matter what we do, they'll try to stop it. They tried to criminalize pro-life rhetoric by saying we have to stop using words like 'murder,' because it promotes violence. Well, something like 38 million babies have been killed, and how many abortionists have been murdered, maybe three?"

Though the statement seems to imply a belief in the concept of justifiable homicide, Dreste isn't elaborating. "I don't talk about justifiable homicide," he says when pressed. "I talk about the things that I do, not the things that I don't. It's always been a policy of mine. These are the things that we do: We offer alternatives to women; we offer them whatever help they need; we go out and publicly expose the abortionists. Those are the things that we do. The things that we don't do are nonissues.

"We say in our ACLA constitution that the organization doesn't have a position on justifiable homicide, so no one can say that this is the organization's position, but we all agree that we're not going to do it; we're not out here to promote it, we're out there to promote the positive things that we do."

The day after the jury returned its verdict, Vullo asked the judge to ban any of the defendants, including Dreste, from publishing the Web site or handing out the lists and the posters. Though the judge wouldn't issue his injunction for several more weeks, Dreste responded to the lawyer's request immediately: Back in St. Louis, he stood in front of the clinic handing out as many "wanted" posters of the doctors as there were hands to take them.

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