Earlier this week, we raised questions about whether the FBI acted aggressively enough after getting a tip about Scott Roeder, who’s been charged with murdering Kansas doctor George Tiller.
And those questions are only getting louder. Last night, the abortion clinic worker who had provided that tip went on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, where he laid out Roeder’s various efforts to vandalize the clinic — starting in 2000 and culminating the day before Tiller’s murder — as well as the detailed information that the FBI received about the incidents.
In a nutshell, here’s what the worker — using the pseudonym “Jeffrey Pederson” to protect his identity — told Maddow:
Back in 2000, Pederson saw Roeder supergluing the front and back door locks to the clinic — preventing anyone from entering or leaving — two weekends in a row. Pederson gave the FBI the security videotape of the incident, as well as the license number of Roeder’s car, which he had taken down. In response, the bureau said the pictures were not clear enough to build a case, but that they’d talk to Roeder.
That may have had some effect, because the worker said Roeder wasn’t seen around the clinic again until 2006. At that time, he returned for several months, joining the group of anti-abortion protesters that would gather outside the clinic. Then he went away for a while again.
On the morning of Monday, May 25, 2009, clinic staff showed up to work to find the doors super-glued. When Pederson got in, he replaced the locks, then called the local police and the FBI. He viewed the security tape but was unable to identify the vandal. But on the 28th, he viewed the tape again and was able to identify Roeder. He gave that tape to the FBI.
On the morning of the 30th, the day before Tiller’s shooting, Roeder returned. A staff member saw him gluing the back door of the clinic. She chased him away, and he fled, yelling “baby killer.” She noted his license number, and told Pederson about the incident. He reported the incident to the FBI, making clear that this was the same person as had vandalized the clinic the previous week. In response, the FBI said that in order to take any action to stop Roeder, they’d need to convene a grand jury and get a warrant.
In the same segment, Maddow also points out that a specific federal law, the FACE Act, makes it a federal crime to intentionally damage the property of an abortion facility. It would appear that the FBI had been given evidence — tapes, witness interviews, a license number — indicating that Roeder had repeatedly done that. The FBI also knew that Roeder had been arrested in 1996 for having bomb-making parts in his car, and had past ties to violent extremist groups. And yet, prosecutors charge, Roeder was left free the following day to shoot Tiller at close range in church.
There’s also a larger story here, which involves what appears to be a sharp drop off, during the Bush years, in efforts to enforce the FACE Act and otherwise to ensure the safety of abortion providers. Could the general turn by law enforcement in recent years toward a focus on Islamic and environmental terrorism, and away from right-wing terrorism, have played a role in what looks like the FBI’s casual response? And is it time to rethink that shift? It’s certainly worth asking.
Late Update: Bridget Patton, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Kansas City office, tells TPMmuckraker that after receiving the information about Roeder from Pederson, the office opened an investigation. She declined to elaborate, citing that ongoing investigation. A spokesman with the FBI’s national office declined to comment, referring us to Kansas City or the Department of Justice. A message left with DOJ public affairs was not immediately returned.