By Lindsay Toler
By Danielle Marie Mackey
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Lindsay Toler
By Danny Wicentowski
By Lindsay Toler
Today Dreste is searching for the queen, the elusive mistress of the hive, because if he doesn't find her and clip her wings, she'll sabotage the politics of the colony and his 2-year-old hobby as well. The bees' natural tendency is to divide the hive, Dreste explains, but if he finds the queen and snips her wings, she won't be able to defect with a swarm.
He gently slides a bee-stuccoed frame from its slot, and a complaint rises like heat from the depths of the hive. "You've got to move slow and not distract them too much," he says, slowly reaching down for a handheld smoker, which, for some reason, is supposed to calm them down. "They aren't in too bad of a mood today."
All in all, he figures, he's been stung about 50 times in the last two years, only about a third as many times as he's been arrested. In these four hives alone, there are 200,000 bees, and if he had a $20 bill for every single one, Dreste still wouldn't have enough money to pay off the most recent judgment against him.
It's been two months since the end of the latest and most notorious trial, officially Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette, Inc.; et al. vs. American Coalition of Life Activists; et al but more commonly known as the "Nuremberg Files case" or "that trial in Oregon," and Dreste thought a day away from the city, the publicity and the legal hassles might do him some good. He accepts the consequences of what he's done, for what he believes he's been chosen by God to do, but the costs, both physical and mental, are adding up these days.
In addition to more than a decade of arrests, jail time, fines and more arrests, the 40-year-old St. Louis native has now been officially, federally and forevermore labeled a racketeer who co-conspired and threatened to kill, assault or do bodily harm to physicians who provide abortions.
It was a federal trial watched around the country because its outcome would draw new boundaries around what was considered protected political speech. It was also followed closely by abortion opponents, who for years fought the legality of Roe vs. Wade, and by abortion providers, who for years lived in fear for their lives.
The defendants, two anti-abortion groups and 12 individuals, including Dreste, were not charged with any of the 40 clinic bombings or seven murders that took place in the U.S. between 1983 and 1999, but they were accused by two abortion-rights groups and four abortion providers of setting off some of that violence through the use of Web sites, literature and posters. Dreste, in the middle of it all, was implicated in highly coordinated campaigns and conspiracies that the court found to be "true threats" not sheltered by the First Amendment.
Before the federal trial, Dreste rode tall on the reputation he had garnered: domestic terrorist, religious fanatic, paramilitary right-wing nut -- in short, a royal pain in the posterior of the pro-choice movement. But this latest charge against him, the federal order and injunction, well, he just needed a day away.
He comes to these woods often, for the bees or to hunt wild turkey and deer. He learned to shoot when he was 13, aimed at floating balloons on a pond, but for reasons as complex as the political system in the hives around him, he doesn't own a gun anymore.
He has four hives of Carniolan, Italian and Buckfast bees that will produce up to 180 pounds of honey by August, and as he slides the first frame back into the top honey super and pulls another one out, the commotion in the hive grows louder, meaner, like caucusing before a riot.
He pokes at something on the frame. "It's a swarm cell," he says from underneath the black net, "a new queen cell made specifically so they can swarm with the old queen. When you find one of these, you have to cut it open." He jabs at it, and the horde unites in a menacing condemnation heard 50 feet away. Unless he finds the queen soon, the toiling masses will mob. He works his way methodically from one frame to the other. But today it's a fruitless endeavor.
Dreste knows everyone in the Apostolic Christian Church in Hazelwood, not because the tiny seven-pew sanctuary seats a maximum of 30 people but because of those 30 people, half -- maybe more -- are his relatives.
"That man is my uncle," he says one Sunday morning from the back pew, where he operates the small sound board, "and that's his wife, and over there, that's my sister; there's another sister, and that man is a cousin, and those are his kids ... " And there are kids everywhere: in grandparents' laps; scrunched down beneath the pews. A young girl of about 9, the daughter of a cousin of an in-law, hangs adoringly on Dreste's arm.
His family, the church, stresses doing God's work from a more practical point of view than many fundamentalist Protestant denominations, always reminding members that gaining entrance to heaven isn't like buying a lottery ticket. There is no magic to it, no speaking in tongues, no handling snakes, no eternal security. You work hard here on Earth, quietly, diligently, to retire in eternity. Your works are an outward manifestation of your faith, and your faith is what saves you.
A young woman wedged in behind an organ calls out, "Somebody pick a hymn," and somebody else calls back, "How about 392?" There are no candles, no potted lilies, no ushers passing trays. There are no heavily robed ministers -- it's the congregation's job to learn and teach -- so Dreste's uncle, after the hymn, approaches the small podium to teach a lesson about the shootings in Colorado.
While the congregation listens attentively, there are no amens, hallelujahs or praise-the-Lords; all eyes, at one point of the sermon or another, sneak a look at the back pew, where I'm seated. Afterward, several people ask politely, "So, how do you know Tim?" He later confesses that the church is trying to get him married.
Most of the family and friends who've known Dreste over the years describe him as a "normal kid," "nice guy," "smart as a whip" -- but always add, "I never saw this coming." Whether they mean the militant anti-abortion activism he has engaged in since 1985 or his federal conviction this March is swallowed up in the person they knew "before."
Dreste was born between five sisters and two brothers in a working-class neighborhood in Normandy that he still calls home. Like every other kid on the block, he flourished on baseball, movies and weekly family trips to church. As one childhood friend, Dave Gansman, now says, "He was a pretty normal kid. I mean, he's pretty outspoken now, but he has really strong beliefs and opinions, and he sticks by them. But he was a normal kid, a normal teenager. I mean, I never saw any of this coming."
His parents, Mildred and Richard Dreste, were strict disciplinarians who instilled in their eight children the love of God and respect for worldly authority the Bible commanded. At a recent family gathering at his sister's house in Affton, Mildred explains that her grandfather founded an Apostolic Christian Church congregation in Ohio, "so it goes way back, it's been ingrained in us for years and years"; her children weren't even allowed to date until they found someone spiritually sound in the church. "A practice," she says smiling, "they still hold over my head." Predictably, Mildred describes her oldest son as an "intelligent" and "funny" child who never gave her any trouble. But Dreste's siblings, unable to keep straight faces, scramble over each other to tell all: the ornery sense of humor (he admits); the techniques for sneaking in after curfew (he admits); the homework he let them copy (he admits). Mildred's head snaps toward her son as if she's seen a vampire. "It's amazing," she says after a moment, "what you learn about your own children over the years."
But like many church-raised children, Dreste didn't fully latch onto the church's teachings until he became a teenager, when, during a church youth rally near Peoria, Ill., he was asked whether he knew the Lord. "I realized that I really didn't," Dreste says sedately, "and I realized that that's what I wanted." So he was baptized, read the Bible with clearer eyes and thought about what it was God wanted him to do. Meanwhile, he learned to fix cars, fell in love with Star Wars, graduated from Normandy High School, skipped college and joined the Marine Reserves, where he was trained as a telephone and telegraph wireman.
Then, in the early '80s, Dreste became a missionary for the church in Brazil, where he floated the Amazon and learned to speak Portuguese within two years. When he returned to St. Louis in 1983, Dreste found himself spiritually mired, stuck wondering what God wanted him to do next, and he wandered -- from working in an auto-parts store to repairing air-conditioners to fixing cars in a garage. At the time, he says, he couldn't have defined abortion if you asked him.
Things changed when, in 1985, members of Missouri Right to Life showed the movie "Silent Scream," a video that showed an actual abortion at 11 weeks of pregnancy, at Dreste's church, and the implications of what he saw hit him like a 6-foot wall of rushing water. "I said to myself, 'I have to stop this now, the injustice of this,' and I started picketing every Wednesday night at the clinic in University City."
It was there, on the picket line, that Dreste met a man named John Ryan, the Catholic director of the Pro-Life Action League, who changed both Dreste's life and the anti-abortion movement in ways no one had dreamed of several years before. Because abortion was the murder of a child, Ryan told his followers, there was an obligation on the part of Christians to save that child, that day, in any way within legal boundaries. The peaceful sit-ins of previous years no longer sufficed, and Ryan, who would later have whole chapters in books written about him, was getting arrested on a regular basis for his clinic blockades. As Ryan said later at a National Right to Life convention in Kansas City, "If it's radical for us to enter an abortion clinic and place ourselves between a murderer and his victim, then I want to be a radical."
For Dreste, Ryan was a mentor. And from Ryan, Dreste began to learn that doing God's work, and doing it well, meant strategizing to overcome the rules of a secular society.
Ryan taught that anything they as protesters could do within the law to keep a woman from walking into that clinic was acceptable, including the infamous clinic blockades. "And it was working," Dreste recalls, "because it allowed our counselors a longer time on the sidewalk to talk with the girls. I mean, you get 30 seconds to one minute to talk to these girls, but if you've got a lot of people blocking the door, you have more time. If you can just talk to them for a few minutes, there's good chance you can get through to them."
Soon the pacifist, civil-disobedience movement transformed itself into an active "rescue mission," using Proverbs 24:11 as its key verse: "Deliver those who are being taken away to death/And those who are staggering to slaughter/O hold them back." For Dreste, and for his church, the next verse in Proverbs is equally significant: "And will He not render to man according to his work?"
The abortion-clinic rescue was Dreste's work, and he toiled diligently. "The whole idea of a rescue," he explains, "is that you have some people doing the sit-in part of it; you've got sidewalk counselors who are talking to the girls as they're coming in; you've got picketers and people praying. It's essential to have all of those elements together. It's highly coordinated. It's not just people going out there sitting in. It was very effective."
It is unclear just how many "rescues" were accomplished. What was clear was how the actions galvanized the anti-abortion movement. "With more and more people getting arrested, we got more media exposure and made it an issue. It was similar to the civil-rights movement. For people in the civil-rights movement, it was always an issue, but it wasn't an issue with the public until someone started making noise about it, getting arrested and stuff, which would cause the media to ask, 'Why are they getting arrested?' and you'd get the opportunity to explain."
Dreste's first arrest came soon after he joined the Pro-Life Action League, and when they dragged him off to the precinct office and asked him for his name, he decided to answer everything in Portuguese -- anything to further clog up the system. When they asked whether he spoke any English at all, Dreste answered, "A leetle bit," justifying his answer by the fact that he probably only knew about 10 percent of the words in Webster's dictionary anyway.
The movement was transforming rapidly, and St. Louis was in the thick of it all. Ryan was organizing dozens of major protests and leading a national movement to do whatever it took to stop abortions, but by 1986, his escalating activism cooled all support from mainstream anti-abortion groups such as Missouri Citizens for Life and the St. Louis Roman Catholic archdiocese, which wanted to keep their distance from the more militant segment.
Back at Dreste's own church, feelings were mixed. Though the congregation supported in spirit what Dreste's movement was trying to do, they weren't completely comfortable with the way it was being done. "He was a man that had such definite convictions and was accepting the consequences of his convictions," says Dave Cordes, a longtime family friend and fellow church member. "He was very active in trying to protect the unborn, and while I want to do that, too, we're not all out of the same die, so there's disagreement to what extent we should go."
The church prayed for Dreste anyway, because this was his mission. But it was a mission that was also part of a national political movement spiraling toward what some would later call domestic terrorism, with 133 acts of violence reported in 1986 -- including vandalism, death threats and arson -- acted out against abortion providers, according to statistics provided by the National Abortion Federation.
It's 7 a.m., and the first of the anti-abortion protesters gather in front of the Hope Clinic for Women in the heart of Granite City, Ill. The two-story, concrete-block building is boxed in on all sides by factories, a VFW hall and bright-yellow strips of police security tape that, depending on where you stand, mark off where goodness ends and evil begins.
In the clinic's front parking lot, a half-dozen orange-vested volunteer escorts stand in pairs chatting, drinking coffee and trying not to look at the people slowly gathering behind the yellow tape around them. The escorts, like the security tape, the armed guards and the bulletproof glass in the building, are there for a reason.
Tim Dreste is a big part of that reason, though if you ask him whether the clinic employees have reason to be afraid, he answers that if they weren't doing what they were doing, you wouldn't have to ask.
"Tim Dreste is one of the regulars," says Tracy McCreery, a volunteer escort for the Missouri NARAL Foundation. "He's pretty easy to pick out. He wears a camouflage jacket and says some pretty outrageous things. He's almost like a local hero for the other side."
Dreste never wanted to be a hero, though, preferring the front-line work of the doers as opposed to the sideline strategizing of the leaders. But in 1988, after a philosophical split in the Pro-Life Action League, Dreste formed a new, more Protestant group called Whole Life Ministries, which in turn soon affiliated with the more radical national organization Operation Rescue. Headed by charismatic leader Randall Terry, Operation Rescue took the country by storm. Huge rescues were staged at clinics across the country and began garnering the praise of religious leaders like Jerry Falwell and James Dobson.
Dreste, like the movement itself, was changing, becoming more savvy, confronting the system on the streets, and Whole Life Ministries started making headlines. In June 1988, 50 members were arrested outside the Womenscare Clinic in St. Louis County. In July, 60 more were charged with mob action for their protest at the Hope Clinic. One month later, 22 more. A day after that, 23. Getting arrested was not just an unpleasant consequence, a price to pay for the protest, but became part of the strategy. And Dreste understood this well. "We had a whole group of attorneys that would take all these cases pro bono," Dreste says. "If the prosecutors wouldn't give us a break, the attorneys would say, 'Fine, we all want individual jury trials, which will cost thousands of dollars and tie up the system for months.' They'd usually say, 'Well, all right, it's only civil trespassing charges.' We did whatever we could to tie up the system."
By 1991, Operation Rescue was holding larger and larger protests, and Dreste attended as many as he could. That August, 2,500 people, including Dreste, were arrested for disorderly conduct in Wichita, Kan. The next year, in Washington, D.C., Dreste and 277 others were hauled in for crossing police lines to block clinic entrances. Back in St. Louis, Dreste continued organizing protests at places like Granite City, where the director of Hope Clinic, Sally Burgess, could only watch in horror.
"They used tactics like, when a patient was walking toward the clinic out on the sidewalk, they would get right in her face, and your tendency when somebody does that is to reach out and try to push them back," Burgess says. "At that point, the protesters would call the police and file assault charges (against the woman), so that the patient would be sitting there in this very busy clinic and be dragged out by the police. Any little harassment thing like that, they would do."
At the time, Dreste was still working as an auto mechanic, but the continual breaks he was taking for protests, jail time and trials were beginning to put a strain on his relationship with his boss. Some members of his family, too, were having a hard time accepting that they had a "criminal" in the family. Finally his church stepped in and asked him to become a full-time "missionary for the pre-born," and Dreste willingly accepted.
Things moved forward at a dizzying pace, and the parallel lines of religion and politics began to merge. Dreste organized more protests, traveled more to others across the country and then decided to run for the state Senate seat held by Wayne Goode (D-Normandy) on a pro-life Republican platform. He knew his chances of winning in the heavily Democratic district weren't the best, but because he believed Goode's stand against abortion wasn't strong enough, and because the incumbent senator rarely ran opposed, Dreste decided to give him a little competition, a little political jog around the block.
Meanwhile, violent incidents at clinics were reaching an all-time high, with 196 reported by the end of 1992, and disruptions, such as bomb threats and hate mail, rising to 3,379.
But then the political bottom dropped out when the Reagan-Bush era was plowed under in the November '92 elections and the staunchly pro-choice Bill Clinton was elected to office, the pro-choice Mel Carnahan was elected Missouri's governor, and Dreste, not surprisingly, lost his own race. The following May, the newly empowered abortion-rights side fired its first volley in what would soon escalate into out-and-out war: Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Entrances Act (FACE), making it a federal crime to engage in violent or disruptive behavior at abortion clinics.
It was a hammer to the head of the rescue movement, and while in jail for an earlier clinic protest, Dreste let loose and wrote a letter to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch questioning why his people were being thrown in jail while "militant homosexuals invade church services and spread AIDS-infected blood in legislative chambers, all the while being cheered on by the left for standing up for their causes."
Rendered impotent at the clinics by legislation, yet impassioned by the fiery rhetoric of the movement's leaders, extremists at the fringe began crawling out of the shadows, guns in hand. In March 1993, Dr. David Gunn, an abortion provider in Pensacola, Fla., was shot to death by Michael Griffin. It was the first murder of an abortion provider in the U.S., and it set the stage on which an increasingly militant pro-life movement would, from then on, act.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.