For young people growing up here in the Florida panhandle, the signs of religion are everywhere -- from a monument to the Ten Commandments near the federal courthouse downtown to the 245 churches dotting the flat rural landscape that fans north.
Evangelical religion is deeply rooted in the area, and with it, fervent opposition to abortion; and so to the two young couples it seemed entirely appropriate to offer "as a gift to Jesus for his birthday" the Christmas Day bombings of three clinics where abortions were performed.
"Abortion has been in the front in our church and in our lives for the last couple years," Matt Goldsby said today in an interview in the Escambia County jail. "The more we learned about it the more it began to deal with us -- the anger and the frustration."
James Thomas Simmons sat beside him and nodded in quiet agreement. He and Goldsby, both 21, have confessed to the Christmas bombings and to a similar attack June 25. They are accused of 16 counts each of assembling and planting the bombs and are being held as federal prisoners without bond.
Kaye Wiggins, Goldsby's fiancee, and Simmons' wife Kathy, both 18, were charged with conspiracy and aiding and abetting for their roles in helping buy bomb materials and watching as the bombs were assembled. Both were released to the custody of their mothers Wednesday to await a probable-cause hearing Monday.
Friends of the couples, their family and ministers condemned the bombings. But they say they understand and share the deep-seated disgust with abortion that inspired the attacks. And apparently many other people around Pensacola are sympathetic to why the four felt they had to act.
In a 24-hour poll begun Thursday night, WEAR-TV, the local ABC affiliate, asked its viewers: "Would your religious beliefs, under certain circumstances, lead you to violate civil law?"
Fifty-eight percent of the 1,009 viewers who responded answered yes and 42 percent said no, according to a station spokesman. Goldsby cited the poll with satisfaction and said it was evidence of public support.
"Both of us are just your average young kids raised in the church," he said, describing himself and Simmons. "Well, I guess we're not average, but we were raised in the church all our lives. We have a deep respect for God and the true moral ways. We're very patriotic and, you know, we just love to hunt and fish."
"If we can stop this killing of babies , whether we stopped it for a period of time or if we could stop it altogether, it would totally thrill the both of us."
Others here are praying for the same thing. The Rev. Lindall Ballenger, pastor of the First Assembly of God Church, advertised in the Yellow Pages as "Pensacola's Miracle Church," said he understands the "frustration" that guided the bombings.
"I personally think it's the apathy," he said. "Churches sit on their cans, preachers sit on their cans while they let 150 million babies be murdered in America. This is a county, Escambia County, of more than 245,000 people, and there are only 10 antiabortion picketers out there -- that's apathy that forces people who have moral values to crusade."
Goldsby and Simmons say they were not among those pickets.
Instead, the pair said, they used "common sense" to construct and plant a bomb on June 25 to blow up the Ladies Center, the Pensacola office of a Miami-based chain of abortion clinics. When no one caught them, they began to plan for Christmas.
"There's no gang, there's no leader, there's no conspiracy," said Goldsby, smiling. "We've been raised up together. This is Spanky and Alfalfa right here.
"We knew abortion was wrong. We also knew the majority of religious leaders would not agree with what we did. We did not go to the elders of the church because more likely, you know, they would have told us not to do it, you know, that it was illegal," Goldsby said.
"Like I said, we saw children being killed, and we reacted in the quickest manner."
Of the four, only Wiggins is not a formal member of Ballenger's church, an imposing three-story adobe gray building with a red clay-tiled roof on Bayou Boulevard. A dome painted with day-glow stars and planets caps the service room that seats 1,800. The dome glows with black lights twice a week at prayer services where worshipers speak in tongues and lay hands on each other in hopes of healing.
It is this church and others like it that Dr. William "Pinkey" Permenter, whose clinic burned to the ground in the predawn hours of Christmas Day, blames for the attacks.
"Why does everything always keep leading back to this Bayou Boulevard church?" said Permenter. "These people are telling them young people every day that God's talking to them. They begin to believe that he is, telling them that they're murdering full-term babies."
Like Dr. Bo Bagenholm, whose obstetrics/gynecology clinic also was bombed, Permenter tempers his remarks about the attacks with compassion for the four young people. The director of the Ladies Center, which escaped severe damage, has refused to talk with reporters.
"I feel tremendous emotion for these young children. It's extremely sad for all four of them," Permenter said. "But we've still got to say, 'Look, nice kids don't go out and bomb buildings.' "
"They're speaking with double tongues. They're promoting terrorism," said Permenter. "If Pinkey Permenter never does another abortion, why do they think they've had a victory? People have been doing abortions for 2,000 years, and someone just steps in and keeps doing it."
The real victims, Bagenholm and Permenter said, are women. "I don't do this because it's the 'in' thing to do. I do it because, by God, I believe women have a right to choose abortion or delivery," Bagenholm said.