Curtis Beseda, a regular on the picket line at the Feminist Women's Health Center in Everett, Wash., decided to firebomb the clinic after watching woman after woman ignore his pleas not to have an abortion. He said he bombed the facility because he believes abortion is "the greater of two evils."
Don Benny Anderson had not been active in the antiabortion movement before setting out on a four-month campaign of violence, on orders, he said, from God and the Archangel Michael. With the aid of two young followers, Anderson formed the Army of God and set fire to two abortion clinics in Florida, bombed one in Fairfax County and kidnaped the operator of an Illinois abortion clinic.
Joseph Grace, described by a psychiatrist as a "religious political fanatic" in search of a cause, set fire to a Norfolk abortion clinic and was arrested after he fell asleep in his van a block away, his shoes still soaked with kerosene. Grace called himself a member of the Army of God, but he later admitted he knew of the group only through news reports.
Since 1982 there have been 30 bombings or fires set at abortion clinics and "pro-choice" offices across the country, including 24 last year, and the pace is intensifying. Three clinics were bombed in Pensacola, Fla., on Christmas, and a clinic in Southeast Washington was struck on New Year's Day, bringing to 17 the number of attacks on abortion-related centers since June. The Washington bombing has not been solved.
Abortion clinics have also been the target of an escalating number of acts of vandalism, death threats to employes, telephone bomb threats and other forms of harassment.
"Pro-choice" leaders maintain that at least some of the violent attacks are connected.
But federal law enforcement officials, who have made arrests in 12 of the 30 attacks, said a nationwide investigation has failed to uncover evidence that the incidents are coordinated or the work of an organized group. There is no indication that any of the seven men and two women charged or convicted in the attacks knew others who participated in attacks in other cities.
Interviews with friends, lawyers and prosecutors of the accused, and with some of the defendants themselves, suggest the attackers share many characteristics. They emerge as blue-collar, lower-to-middle-class persons who have no history of violent acts. They appear to be deeply religious and politically unsophisticated.
Motivated by antiabortion fervor and convinced they are acting "for the glory of God," as Beseda told federal investigators, they have become frustrated by the failure of the mainstream movement to stop abortions, and they are willing to risk long prison terms to achieve more immediate results.
"People get aroused when there's injustice in the land," Anderson, the Army of God leader, said last week in a telephone interview from federal prison in Oxford, Wis., where he is serving a 42-year sentence. "They don't want to sit idly by while their brothers or sisters are being murdered."
Despite 12 years of unrelenting efforts -- including picketing, protest marches and lobbying for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion -- and the election in 1980 of a president committed to its cause, the antiabortion movement has been unable to undo the Supreme Court's 1973 decision legalizing the controversial procedure.
Debate over the bombings reached a crescendo last week after the Christmas and New Year's attacks. D.C. Mayor Marion Barry and others urged those in the antiabortion movement to repudiate the attacks more harshly, and President Reagan for the first time specifically deplored the violence at clinics.
Those who attack clinics "are not wild, crazed terrorists," said Joseph M. Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. "These are people who want to put 'abortuaries' out of business . . . who have decided human lives are more valuable than real estate."
"There's a similarity," said Scheidler, who has befriended most of the accused. "There was usually something they saw or read, something that grabbed them about the helpless child."
Don Benny Anderson, a devout Mormon and father of seven, "had never thought much about abortion" before he was called on to give a talk on the issue at a church meeting, according to Scheidler. "It overwhelmed him that it was such a terrible thing," Scheidler said.
A fugitive from Texas, where he had been convicted of real estate fraud, Anderson -- described as a charismatic, outgoing man given to grandiose schemes, whether for making money or stopping abortion -- embarked on a four-month, three-state campaign of violence against abortion clinics in 1982. He set fire to two, bombed one and kidnaped the doctor who directed another, plus the doctor's wife. He was convicted in all four incidents.
"My own impression was that Don Benny was not a violent man, not a man lent to violence . . . . But I think that he, like a lot of people, kind of lost a sense of perspective when it came to something that was the antithesis of his beliefs," said John A. Field III, an Alexandria lawyer who represented Anderson in the Fairfax bombing.
Calling his group the Army of God, Anderson, 43, took Matthew and Wayne Moore, the young sons of a Mormon family Anderson had befriended. The immature and unsophisticated youths, trained to have unquestioning respect for their elders, looked on Anderson as a "father figure," their lawyers said.
"But for this course of conduct I think they could aptly be described as all-American kids," said William Lucco, an Illinois lawyer who represented Matthew Moore, who is serving an eight-year sentence for the kidnaping. (Wayne Moore received a four-year term.)
Frederick J. Hess, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted Anderson for the abduction of abortion clinic owner Dr. Hector Zevallos and his wife, called Anderson a "manipulative character" who took advantage of Matthew and Wayne Moore, who were 19 and 18 at the time of the attacks. Hess said Anderson preyed on "their religious beliefs to enslave them to his purpose."
The Moore family, according to lawyers, had not joined protest marches or pickets at clinics but was fervently opposed to abortion.
"When Wayne was as young as 11 or 12 their father had gotten ahold of some photographs of some fetuses, and he showed these to the family and they had a discussion at that time about the evil of abortion," said David Freeman, a public defender who represented Wayne Moore. "They had this indoctrination . . . . It permeated all of the relations in the family."
Clutching a seven-foot sign depicting a dismembered fetus, Curtis Beseda stood for months outside the Feminist Women's Health Clinic in Everett, Wash. Fellow pickets said that Beseda worked hard to keep the protests peaceful and calmed fellow pickets when they became agitated.
His lawyer, Thomas Hillier, said Beseda is a "loner" and an "exceptionally naive man who believed very strongly that abortion is wrong."
Beseda, who took the stand against his lawyer's advice, admitted that he set three fires at the Everett clinic and another fire at a clinic in Bellingham, Wash., between December 1983 and April 1984.
"I made a decision that abortions could not be allowed to carry on," Beseda, a self-employed roof cleaner, told the jury. He apologized for causing the property damage and said he attacked at night to avoid injuring people.
A Roman Catholic, Beseda, 29, grew up in the small town of Snohomish near Everett, graduated from a Lutheran-sponsored college, and taught school, where he occasionally clashed with fellow teachers and students over what he felt was their use of off-color language, Hillier said.
"The type of action I took, as reprehensible as it is, is the one sure way to prevent the death of unborn children," Beseda said in a telephone interview from jail last week. He was sentenced last month to 20 years in federal prison.
Joseph Grace embraced pessimistic and extremist views on a variety of political issues, according to his lawyer, Berry Willis. Grace feared imminent nuclear annihilation and the Soviet menace, and he traveled to Moscow to support a group of Siberian Pentecostalists who had taken refuge in the American embassy.
But Grace's opposition to abortion, fueled by avid reading of the Bible, became his most obsessive concern, Willis said.
Shortly before dawn on May 26, 1983, Grace, a Vietnam War veteran and a self-employed painter, broke a window in the Hillcrest Clinic in Norfolk and set fire to kerosene he had splashed on the clinic's floors, Willis said. Grace, caught within an hour, made no effort to hide what he had done, either to police or to the jury at his trial. "He wasn't going to apologize for anything," Willis said. "He felt he was not really committing a crime."
Grace, 35, was convicted of arson and sentenced to 20 years in a Virginia prison.
A court psychiatrist found that he was a "religious political fanatic," suffering from "grandiose ideas" and "paranoid feelings," Willis said.
"I think he is an individual who is looking for attention," Willis said. "As the psychiatrists pointed out, if it wasn't this particular cause it would be some other cause on the fringe."
Last week, two newlyweds and a couple engaged to be married, all young, fundamentalist Christians, were arrested in the Pensacola bombings. The teachings of his church infused him with a strong antiabortion fervor, said 21-year-old Matt Goldsby, and his mounting anger and frustration spurred him to attack the clinics. The bombs were meant, said his fiance, 18-year-old Kaye Wiggins, as a "gift to Jesus for his birthday."
Like other violent extremists, such as radical left-wing groups in the 1960s, those who attack abortion clinics are convinced that the righteousness of their cause justifies breaking the law, according to George Washington University sociologist Amitai Etzioni. "They think their principles are higher than the law of the land," Etzioni said.
"I would compare them very much to the vigilante in New York City" who is accused of shooting four youths last month after they allegedly tried to rob him on the subway, Etzioni said. "Their attitude is, if the system doesn't work, I'm going to do it myself."
"Pro-choice" leaders say they are convinced that at least some of the attacks are connected and that those responsible have links to the mainstream antiabortion movement.
They note, for example, that a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the front window of a family planning clinic in Atlanta on the same day, and at approximately the same time, that someone set fire to a clinic in San Diego; that the Everett pickets did not stage their regular protests on one weekend Beseda set fire to the clinic; and that some of the bombs used in the clinic attacks were similar.
"Any movement like this has its informal network. They know each other and they talk to each other," said Nanette Falkenberg, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
"There is no group," responded Dr. Jack Willke, president of the National Right to Life Committee. "That's a line out there by the pro-abortion people."
Officials of the U.S. Treasury's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the agency with primary responsiblity for the investigation, said no evidence of an organized conspiracy has emerged despite extensive efforts to find one by hundreds of agents across the country.
Larry Elkin, an ATF official supervising the nationwide investigation, said that since the probe began agents have been looking for an underground organization. But "at this point we have absolutely nothing to indicate that the same person or persons perpetuated these crimes throughout the country," he said.
"I'm scared about copycats," said another federal official involved in the investigation. "It would probably be easier to investigate if it was one group."
Instead, the official said, investigators have discovered that the attacks are the work of either lone individuals or different groups of people in various parts of the country "each more motley than the other."