FBI Persecution of Pro-Choice Activists
Revolutionary Worker #985, December 6, 1998
On October 23, 1998, Dr. Barnett Slepian, a doctor committed to providing abortions as part of offering all-around reproductive health care for women, was brutally murdered by an anti-abortion assassin in his Amherst, N.Y. home. A day later, 250 people attended a pro-choice night time vigil for Dr. Slepian outside his Amherst clinic.
Robert Stauber and Michael "Malikee" Gingerich--well-known and respected activists in the Cleveland area who have been involved for years in the struggle for reproductive rights and part of the movement to oppose the politics of cruelty in general--joined the vigil with a beautiful banner from Refuse & Resist! that said, "We Won't Go Back, Defend the Right to Abortion!" Little did these two men know at the time that, almost a month later, they would be targeted and persecuted by the FBI. That they would become the subjects of a nationwide FBI search. That the authorities would imply they were possibly linked to the murder of Dr. Slepian. That they would be slandered in the Canadian and U.S. press.
What follows is not fiction. It is a real life story of how the FBI is "investigating" the murder of Dr. Slepian. It is a story that shows once again that nothing good can come from the involvement of government agencies like the FBI in solving the problems of the people.
On October 24, after mistakenly thinking the vigil for Dr. Slepian was at the doctor's home, Gingerich and Stauber encountered some police in the vicinity of the house. From this point on, the local authorities have been aware that Gingerich and Stauber are pro-choice activists. And later press reports indicate that the FBI has known this as well. The New York Times reported on November 22 that, "Moskal [an FBI agent] said the two men apparently showed up at Slepian's house the day after his death. They were trying to attend a prayer vigil for Slepian but had been sent to his house by mistake, and a police officer on duty took their names, Moskal said."
On November 21, Gingerich and Stauber became aware that their names had gone out in a nationwide FBI bulletin. According to the New York Times, this bulletin was issued by the FBI on Thursday, November 19. The Canadian Press Service in the Hamilton, Ontario Spectator began reporting it on November 20. And on Saturday, November 21, the story was picked up by the AP wire and Reuters.
The press reports amounted to vicious slanders of Gingerich and Stauber and they were put in a very dangerous situation. News items in papers and on the internet reported, "The FBI is on a nationwide search looking for two more people who may be connected with the murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian...They've alerted police across the country to be on the lookout for Ronald Stauber and Michael Gingerich." (MSNBC News) The two men were named in most press accounts. It was stated that the federal Justice Department had posted a half-million-dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of the sniper who killed Dr. Slepian. And it was reported that the FBI bulletin indicated there were possible links between the two men and James Charles Kopp--the anti-abortionist being sought as a material witness in the case.
The FBI issued this bulletin in spite of the fact that they already had a lot of information indicating that Gingerich and Stauber were pro-choice activists and not at all likely suspects in the murder of Dr. Slepian.
Before the FBI issued their bulletin they had confirmed, through interviews, that Gingerich and Stauber were pro-choice activists and had borrowed a car to go to the vigil. FBI agents harassed the woman who had loaned the car to the two men--they visited her three times, banged on her neighbors' doors and at one point threatened her, saying that if Stauber and Gingerich were arrested and charged with Dr. Slepian's murder, she would be named as an "accessory."
Also, given the FBI's long history of spying on progressive and revolutionary movements, it is hardly far-fetched to assume the FBI had access to the arrest records and files on Stauber and Gingerich that clearly indicate they have been involved in pro-choice and other progressive activities.
Before the FBI put out their bulletin, Stauber's lawyer had contacted the FBI, saying his client had no obligation to talk to them. And later, Stauber and his lawyer met with the FBI to make it clear that, while Stauber did not have anything to say to the authorities, he was not trying to hide. Still even after this, the FBI continued to make outrageous statements to the press and allow it to go totally uncorrected, the impression being put out all over the news that these two activists were being sought and somehow "may have known James Charles Kopp, an anti-abortion activist being sought as a material witness in the case." (Associated Press 11/22)
From the beginning the FBI was very antagonistic toward Stauber and his lawyer. They visited the attorney's home even though he had told them he was going to be out of town. And at one point they made a point of asking how people found out about and got to the vigil within 24 hours after the murder. With this question, the FBI attempted to turn the investigation of Dr. Slepian's murder into an investigation of organizing within the pro-choice movement. In fact, the FBI initiated their investigation of two pro-choice activists because they had gone to the vigil. An FBI agent told the press, "They were being sought for interviews just because they were literally in the area after the homicide." (AP Wire 11/23)
The question needs to be asked: What is the FBI up to here? Are they carrying out this outrageous persecution of two pro-choice activists so that they "look like they're doing something" to solve this murder? Are they up to something even more evil, like a conscious attempt to reverse right and wrong, attack progressive pro-choice people, while letting the murderers of Dr. Slepian go free?
While Stauber and his lawyer were meeting with FBI agents they did not know, nor were they informed, that the FBI had already issued their nationwide bulletin. As Stauber said at a news conference on November 24, asking the FBI: "How come on the day I refused to talk to you--sat right across the table from you--you issued to the Associated Press a statement that you didn't know our whereabouts? Why did you let this continue for days in the news?"
After Stauber and Gingerich became aware of the FBI bulletin on November 21, their attorney immediately contacted the FBI. When the lawyer questioned the agency's lies to the media, the FBI threatened him, saying if his clients don't come in today and talk that today's media will be nothing compared to what's coming out tomorrow. This was an open admission by the FBI of using the media to harass the two men and punish them for exercising their right to have a lawyer and not talk to the FBI. And to this day, the FBI has not stated verbally or in writing that they have withdrawn the nationwide search.
On Tuesday, November 24, a press conference was held in Cleveland outside the Federal Building that houses the FBI. Robert Stauber opened by saying he had some questions for the FBI: "Why did you pick out two activists who support women's right to abortion? Why are you pretending you didn't know that? Didn't you look in the files that you keep on us? (and probably everyone else out here today). Why has only our names surfaced from your <96>hundreds of interviews'? And if in fact, you are trying to find the attackers of abortion doctors, why haven't you solved ONE case in the five years of these attacks which have resulted in the injury of four doctors and the killing of Dr. Slepian?... Why did you portray us essentially as fugitives because I wouldn't talk to you?" Michael Gingerich also spoke and said, "They [the FBI] made no attempt to find me and Mr. Stauber had met with the FBI the very day they issued this national BOL for us. Through the media, both locally and nationally, the FBI implied we were fugitives, putting both myself and Mr. Stauber's life in danger. To associate us with the heinous murder of Dr. Barnett Slepian is outrageous and preposterous. I view Dr. Barnett Slepian as a hero and all abortion providers are heroes."
Statements opposing the FBI persecution of Stauber and Gingerich were also given by Deb Petten, one of the cofounders of the Cleveland Pro-choice Action League; Cheryl Lessin, spokesperson for the Cleveland Branch of the RCP; and a member of Workers World Party. A statement was also read from AntiRacist Action at Kent State University.
After Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered the FBI was brought in to investigate the crime. One month later all they have produced is a vicious and massive attack on pro-choice activists. This is another striking example of the cold truth that the masses of pro-choice people must rely on ourselves to protect and defend abortion providers while fighting on many fronts to change the whole reactionary political climate which encourages and produces attacks like the assassination of Dr. Slepian. Nothing good can come from cooperating or involving the government in the fight against attacks on abortion clinics and doctors. Big Brother is watching--but he's watching the resisters.
Stauber and Gingerich are demanding a formal announcement that the nationwide search is over, that they are no longer suspects, and a public apology from the FBI. When contacted by local news on the night of the press conference, the FBI in Cleveland refused to comment.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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