Who is a Christian terrorist? I accidentally stumbled into a debate a while back, in which I was informed that there is no such thing. I watched others offer examples, only to be told either that a given example isn’t really Christian, or that listing the number of examples possible in a tweet proves that there are so few as to be unworthy of discussion. It seemed that a list of just a few examples might be a useful tool.
The term itself, ‘Christian terrorism,’ is by nature, fuzzy and hard to define. Must a terrorist claim a Christian motive, or merely be a Christian (or claim Christianity, since some will assert that one who carries out an attack isn’t a ‘real’ Christian) in order to qualify? After all, it’s typical to declare a case to be ‘radical Islamic terror,’ as soon as the attacker is profiled as Muslim, regardless of motive. Who exactly is a Christian? What exactly is a terror attack? Must it be murder to count?
Thankfully, we have some guidelines, albeit incomplete. As the ACLU explains here, the U.S. Patriot Act explanded some of these definitions. In short, the act may be considered terrorism merely for endangering life, if the motive appears to be political and coercive. The act can be intended to directly sway government action, or to have an effect by intimidating the civilian population.
That’s pretty broad, and could easily include, for instance, someone following people into bathrooms to check if they are transgender, or outing individuals as undocumented immigrants. The code limits the definition to only include illegal activity. Although harassment, for instance, is certainly a crime, much of the anti-LGBT and anti-immigrant activism doesn’t currently fall outside legal lines — even if it should.
As for specifically being Christian terrorism, this list will be limited to those who either stated that they acted on Christian ideology, or who identified themselves as Christians and appear to have acted on ideology associated with Christian movements.
We’ll also skip the broadest and most obvious groups: the KKK and the Westboro Baptist Church, for instance, whose names always evoke the No True Scotsman fallacy. Yes, we’re well aware that many of you don’t consider these groups to be Christians. They do define themselves as Christian. Still, those two, at least, are so obvious as to go without saying.
Finally, I’ve only listed terroristic acts in modern times — this isn’t Crusades and witch burnings.
1. Brenton Harrison Tarrant
The most obvious recent case is Brenton Harrison Tarrant. He’s been charged with a March 2019 attack in New Zealand, in which at least fifty Muslims were murdered during prayers, and detailed his reasonings in a manifesto. They include allusions to U.S. President Donald Trump (“a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose”), an intent to have a political effect, and his beliefs. He said the question of whether he is a Christian is ‘complicated,’ but also expressed unity with what he seemed to see as a Christian cause, quoting Pope Urban II’s call for crusades: “Let our lives be stronger than death to fight against the enemies of the Christian people.”
2. Robert Doggart
In April 2015, Robert Doggart, a one-time congressional candidate and self-proclaimed Christian minister, was arrested and charged for plotting to attack a mosque and school, and kill Muslims.The Gospel Herald shared Doggert’s own description of his intent, lauding his armor-piercing rounds and boasting a willingness to “cut ‘victims’ to shreds” with a machete.
3. Michael Frederick Griffin
In March 1993, during an anti-abortion protest, Michael Griffin shot Dr Daid Gunn, an abortion provider, three times in the back. According to Slate, he shouted, “Don’t kill any more babies!” and surrendered to police. He claimed to have been radicalized by pro-life activist John Burt, and later justified the murder, saying, “we’re all commanded to protect the innocent children.”
4. Paul Jennings Hill
In July 1994, former Presbyterian minister Paul Jennings Hill approached Pensecola Ladies Center, where Dr. John Bayard Britton was just arriving. Hill opened fire, first murdering the man who had driven Dr. Britton to the hospital, James Barrett, then the doctor himself.truck. He also injured June Barrett, who was also in the vehicle. The New York Times reported that upon his execution, supporters declared Hill a martyr. CBS reported that in an interview before his execution, he boasted that he expects rewards in heaven, and expressed a hope more will follow in his actions.
5. Eric Rudolph
According to CNN, the first bomb Rudolph set was at the Summer Games in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta in July 1996. He would go on to set bombs at two abortion clinics and a lesbian nightclub before being caught and charged. He has been connected to the Christian Identity movement, and a profile by Blue Ridge Outdoors describes his fear that politicians were planning to throw Christians, including him, in concentration camps.
6. Scott Phillip Roeder
In May 2009, George Tiller, a doctor who performed legal abortions past the 21-week gestation mark, was serving as an usher in his church when Scott Roeder entered and shot him in the head. The Guardian reports that Tiller had been the subject of such attacks previously, when he had been shot in the arms and his clinic had been bombed. Roeder told the jury that he had become a Christian while watching The 700 Club, and had wanted to kill Tiller since shortly after that conversion.
7. Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon
Shelley Shannon was one of those who previously carried out a (failed or nonfatal) attack on George Tiller. She shot him in 1993, as well as carrying out other attacks on clinics where abortions were performed. She spent 25 years imprisoned for her crimes, and upon her release in November 2018, the Kansas City Star reports that clinics took extra security precautions. She reportedly took visitors in prison who are known for the political position that murder of abortion providers is justified, and has been credited as inspiration for attacks by others.
8. James Charles Kopp
Kopp was convicted in 2002 of the 1998 murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian. According to CBS, he maintained that he was innocent of murder, both on the grounds that he meant only to injure, and the grounds that he was saving children by ‘separat[ing] murderers from their weapons of mass destruction.” He’s also suspected of shooting four other abortion providers over a three-year period from 1994 to 1997.
9. Robert Lewis Dear
In 2015, Robert Dear entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado and opened fire, killing three people and injuring another nine. The New York Times quoted his ex-wife, who described Dear as “very evangelical,” and “obsessed with the world coming to an end,” as well as describing a belief that he could do what he wanted, as long as he could be divinely forgiven. Documents showed his religious rhetoric, such as an exhortion online to “turn to Jesus or burn in hell,” and praise of other attacks on doctors who perform abortions, calling the violence “God’s work.”
10. Larry McQuilliams
A member of a Christian Identity group called Phineas Priesthood, Larry McQuilliams went on a November 2014 rampage, firing shots on multiple targets in Austin, Texas, including the police department, the Mexican Consulate, and a federal courthouse. He also attempted to set the Mexican consulate on fire, and a map found in his home identified a total of 34 intended targets. He was shot and killed by a police officer, ending his attack. In the van he used to carry out the attack, police found a Phineas Priesthood booklet praising Christian vigilantism. Friends said that McQuilliams had blamed immigrants for his inability to obtain employment.
11. John Salvi
Oh, look, another Christian who carried out violent attacks on abortion clinics. According to Time, Salvi entered an abortion clinic in December 1994, and “sprayed the waiting room with gunfire. Then he did it again, at another abortion clinic two miles away.” He killed two, wounded five, and left at least one pregnant patient afraid to try again to seek an abortion, leading to a ‘wrongful life’ case that was eventually settled out of court.
13. Patrick Stein, Gavin Wright and Curtis Allen
US News reports that three men in Kansas City called themselves The Crusaders, and plotted to bomb targets including a mosque and an apartment building housing Somali refugees. This, sadly, was not an isolated example of a group of people hiding behind their own twisted Christian ideology to carry out what they hoped would be a mass killing of innocent people.
14. John Allen Chau
This one may be controversial, but by the definitions previously discussed, he was a Christian, trying to carry out a goal of furthering his religion, and engaged in an illegal act that could endanger life to do so.
John Allen Chau was a missionary. In November 2018, he tried to take his religion to a population in India. They didn’t want it. Smithsonian has the full story, but in short, North Sentinal Island is off-limits. It’s illegal to pass within 6 miles of the island. The Sentinalese don’t want contact with outsiders. They have not been exposed to outside genetics, diseases, or religious philosophies, and choose to continue with that choice. Forcibly interacting with them risks passing diseases to which outsiders have developed immunity or resistance, that could kill the native population, as invaders and colonists have done to native populations so many times before.
Ignoring all of this, Chau illegally rowed his kayak onto the shore and stepped out to his death by native arrows.
15. The Concerned Christians
Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium identifies the Concerned Christians as a cult that traveled to Jerusalem in the 90’s with an intent to destroy the AlAqsa mosque, known to some as the third holiest site in Islam. The Concerned Christians, along with some other groups, reportedly believe that the mosque must be destroyed before the second coming of Christ can take place. The Cult Education Institute reported in 2008 that, after being deported from Israel, approximately 20 members traveled to Greece, where their activity so concerned authorities that they were again deported.
16. Alexandre Bissonette
Bissonette reportedly found Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s open-arms declaration that Canada welcomed people regardless of religious affiliation to be the last straw. The Globe and Mail reports that he fired 48 rounds at the Grand Mosque of Quebec City, killing 6 worshippers and wounding another 17. Online, he had posted images lauding Christian Crusades against Muslims, and expressed the sentiment that Christians faced unfair discrimination.
17. Verne Jay Merrell, Charles Barbee, Robert Berry and Brian Ratigan
Four men were charged in 1997 with a spree of crimes including bombing a newspaper office, a bank, and a PLanned Parenthood clinic, and robbing banks. Ratigan was charged only with crimes pertaining to the Planned Parenthood bombing and a bank robbery; the other three faced multiple counts in three bombings, two robberies, and an attempted robbery, according to the New York Times.
The men were described as members of the Phineas Priesthood, and according to Spokesman Review, believed they were carrying out the will of God in domestic terrorism acts. Ratigan spoke at his sentencing, saying that the bank robberies are not a crime, as God does not recognize banks, that clinic bombings are not a crime because the Ten Commandments forbid abortion, and that the judge was representing “the prince of darkness.”
18. Clayton Waagner
Clayton Waagner was convicted of sending threatening letters and letters containing a substance intended to be mistaken for anthrax, to clinics where abortions were performed. These threats were communicated in late 2001, after government officials and media networks had received letters containing real anthrax. According to the Post-Gazette, he told a fellow anti-abortion activist that he had sent the letters and was targeting 42 “abortion industry workers” for murder, and that the Holy Spirit would let those on his list know they were targeted, so they could save themselves by leaving their jobs.
19. Bryce Cuellar
Bryce Cuellar was charged with making terroristic threats in 2016, and after pleading guilty, was sentenced to probation. Calling himself a Christian warrior, he showed his rifles and said he would soon begin killing “gays, [anti-gay slur]s, lesbians, and satanists,” according to KTNV Las Vegas.
20. Francis Grady
Surprise, surprise — another Christian extremist attacks an abortion clinic. In 2012, Francis Grady threw a firebomb through a window. It’s also an example of a successful terrorism attempt — Wisconsin State Journal reports that by 2016, Planned Parenthood had concluded they’d be forced to close that clinic, unable to maintain the level of security necessary after the attack. The result is that a patient might have to travel additional hours to procure an abortion, a restriction that could prove prohibitive for some.
Christian terrorism doesn’t define Christianity, any more than Islamic terrorism should be considered to define Muslims. However, it’s entirely unreasonable and dishonest to deny that terrorism based on beliefs derived from Christian teachings exists. Yes, Christian teachings vary. A lot of Christian ideologies are beautiful and loving.
Others are harmful and terroristic. I’ll leave you with this clip.
— Risky Liberal (@RiskyLiberal) March 15, 2019
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com