It's called the "lone wolf" model — one person inspired by others but acting alone to commit violence.
That's the pattern some militant anti-abortion activists said Scott Roeder followed when he allegedly shot Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller to death on May 31.
Federal authorities are investigating whether Roeder indeed acted alone or was part of a conspiracy of activists whose goal is to kill doctors and shut down abortion clinics.
Interviews last week and court documents suggest that Roeder had a number of connections with militant abortion foes but few formal ties with known groups. A religious group he once studied under rejects all government authority, and he protested at abortion clinics with others who advocated killing doctors.
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One of those abortion foes contends Roeder acted alone.
“People with common sense who hate the killing of children are going to act without consulting others because they don’t want to get other people in trouble,” said Regina Dinwiddie, a Kansas City abortion opponent who sees Roeder as a hero.
Abortion-rights advocates said even if that was true, it was a conspiracy. Those who support killing doctors and praise the violent acts should be held just as accountable as those who pull the trigger, they said.
“Their language is so over the top that there’s no way that the permission, the encouragement, to do these kinds of activities is not implicit in that,” said Ann Glazier, former director of security for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
“This is literally standing up in a crowded theater yelling ‘fire,’ but yelling ‘fire’ when there are a bunch of arsonists in the room.”
Five days after Tiller’s death, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had launched a federal investigation into the murder.
“The Department of Justice will work tirelessly to determine the full involvement of any and all actors in this horrible crime and to ensure that anyone who played a role in the offense is prosecuted to the full extent of federal law,” said Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.
Mainstream anti-abortion groups have condemned Tiller’s murder.
Some militant groups and abortion opponents applaud the slaying but deny they played any role in it.
Instead, they describe Roeder as a lone wolf, a term that terrorism experts also use to define someone who is inspired by an ideology or an organization to commit violence but acts independently. They may be encouraged by or receive support from others, but they plan and commit the act on their own.
One example is Eric Rudolph, convicted of a 1998 abortion-clinic bombing in Birmingham, Ala., and the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Summer Olympics. Two people died and one was maimed in those attacks.
The lone wolf model is a solitary version of a strategy called “leaderless resistance,” which encourages small, independent cells to commit violent acts. Timothy McVeigh, who committed the Oklahoma City bombing, was part of such a cell.
Questions also are being raised as to whether the man charged in last week’s attack on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., is a lone wolf as well. James von Brunn, a white supremacist, is accused of storming into the museum with a .22-caliber rifle and killing a black security guard Wednesday afternoon.
Federal officials have said in reports that lone wolf attacks are more difficult to prevent and have become more of a concern in recent years.
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