Theatre of Terror: The Army of God
The Army of God is an American terror organisation which commits acts of violence to promote its agenda of anti-abortion. The group is responsible for numerous attacks including fire bombings, arson, shootings and kidnappings, and was the subject of a 1994 grand jury investigation ordered by
President Clinton (Jefferis 2011, p.12). Lacking a formal hierarchal structure, as is typical of contemporary terrorist organisations (Arquila et al 1996, p.86), the group describes itself as an
“evanescent, amorphous, autonomous and spontaneous eruption of individuals” (Horsley 1997).
The organisation advocates violence as a part of the “war” it is fighting against the American political and judicial system, as well as the individuals and groups which support or provide abortions. The group uses a literal interpretation of the christian bible, as well as the principles of
“Just War” (Squires 2014) and proportionality to justify violence, arguing that its actions are taken only to “defend God’s children against state-sponsored slaughter” (Horsley 1997). The organisation first drew media attention in 1982 when three of its associates kidnapped an abortion provider and his wife (NAF 2010.) and has since remained a significant figure in the debate surrounding reproductive rights in America, due to its prolific media presence.
Lorraine Bowman Grieve states that “the internet has become a popular tool in supporting and promoting the ideologies that justify and validate the use of violence to support extremist… movements.” (2009. p.1) Terrorist organisations are using online mediums to present polemicist and inflammatory ideas, which will “seize the imagination of the public and awaken its audience to political issues”. This deliberately dramatic presentation, labelled by Juergensmeyer as “theatre of terror” (2003, p.121), is clearly demonstrated in the internet presence of the Army of God. Their message is primarily spread through their website (Army of God 2013) which displays “shocking… detailed and graphic photographs” (Bowman-Grieve 2009) of aborted foetuses. The calculated selection of images designed to incite strong emotion in viewers is augmented by the use of hyperbolic language, referring to doctors who perform abortions as “baby-killers”, abortion clinics as “baby-butcher labs” and the aborted foetuses as “Satan’s food source” (Christian Gallery 2013).
This emotionally charged, theatrical language serves to cause controversy, and to “mobilise those who have hitherto shunned [the Army of God’s] extremist message” (Burke 2004). The message the group presents is purposefully expressed in the most “vivid and horrifying” (Juergensmeyer 2003,
p.123) manner in order to “to elicit an emotional response” (Burke 2004). Like any theatrical production, they draw from narratives already embedded deep within their audience’s mind. They
z3460565 draw comparisons between legalised abortion and the holocaust, established through the placement of photos of Jewish bodies next to pictures of aborted foetuses, is an endeavour to create an association in the public’s mind between the horrors of the holocaust and the continued legalisation of abortion (Army of God 2013).
The group, as is typical of contemporary terrorist organisations, seeks out publicity in order to espouse and promote their ideologies. In further exemplifying the notion of the ‘theatre of terror’ individuals associated with the organisation have become public figures, through the publicity given to their actions or opinons. Members such as Neal Horsley, the “most public face of anti-abortion extremism in America” (SPL Center Report, 2005), Donald Spitz, the “webmaster” (Jefferis 2011,
p.175) of the Army of God and Michael Bray “the chaplain” (NAF 2010) have exploited the notoriety provided by their public profile. They seek to appeal to as broad an audience as is possible, through the publication of their magazine “Desecration Digest”,