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.

It would be the last time. On Feb. 26, Judge Jones upheld the jury's verdict. "I conclude," he stated, "that plaintiffs have proven by clear and convincing evidence that each defendant, acting independently and as a co-conspirator, prepared, published and disseminated the 'Deadly Dozen" Poster, the Poster of Dr. Robert Crist and the 'Nuremberg Files' with specific intent and malice and in blatant and illegal communication of true threats to kill, assault or do bodily harm to each of the plaintiffs."

Jones' final decree drew fierce criticism from free-speech advocates who were not necessarily embroiled in the abortion fight. In Amsterdam, writer Karin Spaink, who describes herself as a "left-wing, atheist, cursing, slightly perverted, sex-loving, smoking, drugs-promoting, pro-abortion, bisexual, free-speech advocate," mirrored the Nuremberg Files Web site on her own home page, because "everybody has the right to advocate the opinion that abortion is murder." Soon, others followed, including Chris Ellison, founder of Internet Freedom, who wrote articles such as "Why We Must Defend This Repugnant Site," and pro-choice advocate Sallie Tisdale, who wrote for the on-line magazine Salon that "I'm not sure this case has been good for anyone."

Hirsh, Dreste's attorney, now says, "I saw this case as a horrendous abuse of the process and the First Amendment rights of these individuals were being infringed upon" by the plaintiffs. "This had nothing to do with money, and it had nothing to do with threats. It had everything to do with silencing people to express a viewpoint that is in opposition to abortion. It was purely to silence a politically unfavored viewpoint."

Meanwhile, the ACLU of Oregon issued statements of applause, saying that the court order "drew an appropriate line between political speech protected by the First Amendment and threats of physical harm, which fall outside the bounds of free speech." Likewise, pro-choice groups across the country congratulated the court's judicious move.

As for Dreste, he barely shrugs. So he can't hand out the wanted posters anymore -- that won't hurt his reputation any in places like heaven, where it counts. His lawyer is filing an appeal anyway, and nothing bars him from going to Granite City on those Saturday mornings when he can make it. "It gets hard to come here every week," he admits at one point. "It's like going to work, only you're working around death, and that can wear you down. It gets to you sometimes."

At one end of the parking lot of the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Catholic seminary students kneel on the pavement, finger rosary beads and pray. At the other end, Protestants hold large signs, stare at the building and wait to board a converted white school bus, called God's Bus, that will circle the clinic's perimeter until the last patient leaves, around 10 a.m. But it's still early now -- the girls won't start coming in for another half-hour or so -- and in the background, like the pulse of Zeus, beat the inner workings of the nearby National Steel yards.

Ken Hamm, a member of Holy Family Roman Catholic Church in Cahokia, pulls up to the curb and unloads dozens of signs -- "Stop Black Genocide," "An 8-Week-Old Pre-Born BABY Feels Pain Responds to Touch" -- for people on either end of the parking lot to use. He's here every Saturday morning and heaps two folding tables with pamphlets at the parking lot's edge. Today's choices include "Higher Laws," by Randall Terry, and "Celebrate Life!" from the Belleville Diocesan Pro-Life Office. Everything he offers is free.

"All of us who are Christians are brothers and sisters," explains Hamm, wearing a red Cardinals ball cap and a T-shirt that reads "Life Begins at Conception!

"We're united with Christ as our head, and that allows us to communicate with each other in many beautiful ways," says Hamm.

Everyone here, whether a kneeling Catholic or bus-riding Protestant, knows about the 2-month-old federal-court injunction issued against Dreste in Oregon. "We were praying for him the whole time," Hamm says, adding that they've been praying for Dreste for years.

He's probably coming this morning, Hamm says as he lines up his pamphlets on the table and eyes the reporter with polite curiosity. After hearing the explanation, though, he nods his head and smiles: "Oh, Tim's got a story to tell, all right.

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