Soldier of God
A cheerleader for murder, Rev. Donald Spitz says his anti-abortion message is finally getting through
It isn’t every day that an ordained minister refers to himself as a national terrorist threat. But Reverend Donald Spitz isn’t your ordinary man of the cloth.
“I used to get a lot of media attention when things were hot,” the 65-year-old Pentecostal preacher says. “But ever since the World Trade Center bombing … I mean, we are small potatoes, chicken feed compared to something like that. So we got kind of pushed aside by the media. I know how media people are. It’s always got to be a new story.”
On this day, that new story would be Virginia’s new abortion clinic regulations and the so-called “war on women” being waged by the McDonnell administration. “I don’t think they go far enough,” he says of the rules adopted by the Virginia Board of Health in September that would regulate clinics as though they were hospitals. “I personally believe the clinics should be shut down. I don’t think people should be allowed to kill their unborn children, and if they do I think they should be charged just as they would if they killed a born child. There’s no difference.”
Spitz refuses to accept that abortion is legal, that Roe vs. Wade is the law of the land.
“I think it’s an illegal law. The Constitution gives people the right to life, life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and they are taking the right to life from these children. [Roe vs. Wade] is an unconstitutional law.”
He does think that current state leadership is “better than the other guys … it’s good to see pro-life politicians do what they should be doing,” but the activist, with a slight speech impediment that turns his Rs into Ws, refuses to go further. “I think that it is wise for me to stay out of politics.”
The street preacher doesn’t affiliate with local Hampton Roads churches either. “I tend to stay away from them like I do the politics. I meet with some now and then but nothing ongoing. It’s because most ministers are interested in growing their churches, getting people in, getting them saved, which is good, but I have to do what I do. My calling is trying to save the children.”
For nearly 20 years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been watching Donald Spitz. An FBI document intercepted by The New York Times in 1994 stated that he was one of many involved in “a conspiracy that endeavors to achieve political or social change through activities that involve force or violence.”
“This is a man who advocates the murders of doctors and secretaries,” says Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights group that tracks white supremacists and right wing militants. “He’s not the first person to use the Bible to justify murder, but that is his peculiar interpretation … that it is OK to kill.”
“He heads up a violent organization,” echoes Erin Zabel, the public relations director for Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Virginia. “He’s friendly with clinic bombers and offers up the most extreme positions on the abortion issue.”
Being branded a terrorist, an extremist, a Holy man with an unholy mission, doesn’t seem to bother the founder of Pro-Life Virginia. “It’s actually what the bible says would happen, it says you will be persecuted … I mean, it’s not like they’re killing me, but it’s like they are trying to catch me at something and put me in prison. There isn’t anything to what they are looking for.”
When he first brought his message to Chesapeake 26 years ago, the reverend says that “everybody was against us, including the Christians, most ministers, everywhere. They wouldn’t mention abortion in the pulpit. But now, through time, the last 20 years, there’s been much more acceptance that, yes, these are babies being killed, and it’s an abomination and a horrible thing.”
He claims that his anti-abortion message is becoming more mainstream. “It’s a total attitude change. For awhile, it seemed like we were the only voice out there. But now we have more and more people who are realizing that these children are being killed. We don’t seem so extreme anymore. We seem more normal.”
Spitz is also the mouthpiece and head propagandist for a group called the Army of God, an entity that sometimes seems interchangeable with Pro-Life Virginia. “He runs the Army of God website,” Potok says, adding that this group is much more of a concept than a real organization. “It is comprised of anyone who rises up and murders the abortionists. That’s the basic idea. Once you, as an individual, have done the act, you are a member of the ‘Army of God.’”
If one logs on to the Army’s website, the first image displayed is that of an aborted fetus. The next is that of convicted killer
Scott Roeder, standing at trial in a suit and tie. A note under the photo thanks him for murdering Kansas doctor George Tiller in 2009. From there, one is treated to an obsessive hagiography filled with news articles and essays about Army of God “heroes,” including their prison writings, their thoughts and obsessions, all packaged with crudely animated cartoons of red blood dripping down the computer screen. Peppered throughout the website are more grainy fetus photos, situated near selected bible verses, like this one from Psalm 58:10: “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance, he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.”
“There’s a mistake that there’s revenge in murdering abortion doctors. It’s not revenge,” Spitz maintains. “I mean, many abortionists have quit and nobody is going after them. If they quit, nobody’s going to bother them. People think it is revenge, but it is not.” It’s worth noting that, since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, there have been more than 2,400 incidents of violence against doctors and clinics. One thing that is rarely mentioned on the Army of God website: The commandment “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
“Many places in the old testament God puts people to death,” the older man argues, referring to passages in Exodus and Leviticus “I mean, we went over to Afghanistan and we’ve had the Civil War, things like that … ‘Thou Shall Not Kill,’ yes, but if somebody breaks in and is going to kill your wife, you are going to protect them. It’s justifiable homicide. Just as it is here—people are taking lives to protect unborn children.”
“There are many reasonable people who are against abortion,” SPLC’s Mark Potok says. “Donald Spitz is not one of them.”
When asked what he does with his free time, the 65-year-old, slightly overweight man with the bullhorn in his trunk laughs before speaking.
“My wife says I don’t know how to have fun,” he says.
The reverend’s LinkedIn page describes his outside interests this way: “Saving souls from eternal damnation by turning people to the LORD Jesus Christ” and “Saving babies from being murdered by babykilling [sic] abortionists.”
Spitz was originally born in Norfolk, the first of four kids. “I left as an infant because my father was in the military,” he says. “My parents were religious, devout Roman Catholics.” Enlisting when he was 18, he served in the Navy during the Vietnam conflict, but his ship never saw action. “To be honest, I didn’t know what to do with my life. I was definitely what you’d call ‘in the world.’” He drank, fornicated and even engaged in some minor crimes.
But then he found the King James Bible. “As I read it, my life began to change, and one day I accepted Jesus into my heart. I gave my life to him. From that moment on, I became an evangelist to spread the gospel.”
He was ordained through the International Gospel Crusade, by the evangelist Leander Boalhoarst, and started an outreach ministry in, of all places, New York’s Times Square. He eventually met and married Thea, woman from Queens, and eventually moved there with her and founded a church—not a virtual ministry, like the one has now, but a real one.
“New York,” he says when asked why he moved back to Hampton Roads. “Escape from New York.”
Spitz, who still retains vestiges of a Yankee accent, originally planned to build a church in Ocean View. But the plans fell through, a fact that still seems to rankle him. “The church just didn’t happen. I was praying to God, ‘What’s going on? Why isn’t this happening, why isn’t this taking?’ and then the very next day, I got involved with Operation Rescue, which was an antiabortion group.”
Up to that point, he had not been an activist. “But I’d always been strongly against abortion. Like, from an early age, I thought it was the worst thing a woman could do.”
Spitz would later be expelled from the once-prominent prochoice organization. “I had my own branch here in Chesapeake, but a new person took over the national office [of Operation Rescue] and wanted me to give up some of my beliefs, associations, especially Paul Hill … a very close friend of mine. I stuck by him, I supported him, and what happened is that I changed the name to Pro Life Virginia, and I’ve been Pro Life Virginia ever since.”
We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of force. We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a bornchild is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child.” —Defensive Action Statement, 1994.
Donald Spitz will forever be linked to Paul Hill, a defrocked Presbyterian minister who became the first U.S. citizen to be executed for the murder of an abortion doctor. Hill was also the author of a notorious justifiable homicide document, the Defensive Action Statement, that is still featured prominently on the Army of God website.
Spitz, who has no criminal record, was one of the 29 original signers of the statement, which began circulating immediately after a Pensacola, Fla. OBG-YN named David Gunn was shot three times in the back by anti-abortionist Michael Griffin in 1993. It was the first in a wave of abortion clinic attacks that rocked the nation in the mid-1990s. The Chesapeake minister was good friends with Hill, before and after Hill killed Pensacola abortion doctor John Britton, and Britton’s bodyguard, James Barrett.
“After Michael Griffin shot the abortionist in Pensacola. I received a phone call from Paul Hill,” Spitz recalls. “He had made up a document, a justifiable homicide document, which said that Michael Griffin shot David Gunn to prevent him from killing unborn children. He was looking for people to sign it, and he wanted to know if I wanted to sign on. After that, I started going to Pensacola, and we would go to abortion clinics together, and I stayed at his house. And then he shot John Britton.”
In a recent HBO documentary, Soldiers in the Army of God, there is footage of Paul Hill at a press conference following his arrest. “The Lord wanted me to shoot the abortionist,” he states with a chilling smile.
Months later, another anti-abortionist, John Salvi, killed five people outside of two Brookline, Mass. abortion clinics and later traveled to Norfolk and fired shots at the Hillcrest Clinic before he was apprehended (he later committed suicide). When Donald Spitz’s phone number was found among Salvi’s effects, the FBI began keeping the reverend on a watch list. “They started looking for conspiracies,” Spitz maintains. “Janet Reno was doing it. It had to do with my beliefs, my associations, my public statements… a combination of it all.”
The associations with Salvi spurred pro-life organizations to issue a strong rebuke to Spitz. “We have been informed that you plan to come to Massachusetts for the John Salvi trial,” Madeline McComish of Massachusetts Citizens for Life wrote to the minister. “Your public statements on the acceptability of violence do not represent the views of the pro-life movement—rather, they are counter to everything that the pro-life movement represents … you are not welcome in Massachusetts.”
Spitz was later suspected of harboring Clayton Waggoner, who sent fake anthrax letters to abortion clinics. “He wasn’t involved in the letters, but Waggoner called him while on the lam,” Mark Potok says. “He thought Spitz was a kindred soul.” The reverend has also championed and published the writings of Eric Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber, and offered up a forum to other imprisoned offenders who have committed violence in the name of “saving the babies.”
Outside of his own website, he’s also something of a virtual cheerleader for violence. “I wish Francis Grady had burned down that babykilling abortion clinic,” he commented online to a TRN news report on the bombing of a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood office in April. Another clinic attack in May, this time in Georgia, prompted Spitz to comment on the website of the East Cobb Patch that “it’s a great thing for Cobb County.”
“He was tossed out of Operation Rescue because he justified the killing of others,” Potok reminds. “The reality is that he is so vicious and so guttural in his hatred that he is, in fact, a real embarrassment to those who oppose abortion, including some very hardline people.”
Victoria Cobb from the pro-life Family Foundation says she can’t comment on Spitz and his ongoing crusade. Olivia Gans- Turner from the Virginia Society for Human Life did not return phone calls.
Many people, on both sides of the abortion issue, discount Donald Spitz as a crackpot and a hanger-on. But could he, and his ideas about justifiable murder, actually be inching toward legitimacy?
The minister has often been the voice of the pro-life movement on local TV reports. (“They have not been regulated the way they should be regulated,” he told WAVY TV-10 about Virginia’s new women’s clinic regulations. “They’ve been getting away with murder … literally murder.”) Meanwhile, the ideas he espouses that seem abhorrent to many have nearly become law in parts of the nation. Last year in South Dakota, a bill was proposed that would have charged abortion providers in that state with murder, punishable by death—a proposal not too far removed from the tenets of the Army of God.
“If it’s true that he’s gaining legitimacy in any sense, that’s astounding,” Potok says. “The idea that Spitz could be quoted as some kind of legitimate commentator is absolutely mind-boggling. He’s an omnivorous hater, and he doesn’t limit his hatred to people who carry out abortions.”
Lately, Spitz has added other kinds of content to the Army of God website. “At first, he started saying that anyone who commits abortion should be murdered, and then he went to some pretty remarkable comments about black people,” says Potok, who has been following the reverend’s activities since 1997. “It was after that that he got into Islam and gay people.”
Spitz denies being racist, but his viewpoint on homosexuality is as unwavering as his stance on abortion. “My speaking out against it is more my response to the publicity that [gays] have been getting. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else speaking against it. So I feel it is incumbent upon me to let people know that homosexuality is not normal; it is sinful, and gay people need to repent of their sins and obsession with sexual deviancy and turn to Jesus Christ and receive forgiveness.”
Can a homosexual be a good Christian? “No,” he says. “The bible says homosexuals shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. It’s a very grievous sin. It’s against the laws of nature. Men should love their wives, woman should love their husbands … it’s God’s plan.”
“Let us give thanks,” Reverend Michael Bray, the Army of God’s designated “chaplain” wrote on the website after Saudi Arabian officials beheaded two gay men in 2002. “Homo fag TV channel will soon be broadcasting their filthy crimes against humanity,” screams one headline on the site. Another is emblazoned: “Homosexual fag Elton John says he’s lucky not to have AIDS.”
Spitz claims that he isn’t disseminating hate and violence. He says he spends much of his time counseling people. “My two prongs are to reach the women going into the abortion clinics, to change their minds and work with the prisoners who are in jail for their convictions against abortion clinics. And I try to spread the gospel to as many people as I can.”
What does he say to the women at the clinics? “I tell them that God loves them and their baby and that their baby wants to live. How do they respond? “Oh, people do change their minds.”
For a long time, Spitz and his bullhorn were fixtures at the Hillcrest Clinic, one of the first abortion providers in Virginia, but lately he claims to set up at Planned Parenthood’s Virginia Beach office. “They’ve built a new mega center on Newtown Road,” he says. “So I’ve transferred my activities to that one.”
“You know, he may be saying that he comes here, but we’ve only ever seen him one time,” says Planned Parenthood’s Erin Zabel. “He doesn’t regularly protest here.” She adds that there are a few regular protesters at the two Hampton Roads-area offices of Planned Parenthood, “but they are pretty peaceful. It’s very rarely more than two or three people.”
Zabel says that, since the Newtown Road clinic is set far off the road, it is difficult for picketers to speak directly to incoming patients. “The trouble is that about 97 percent of our patients are coming in for pap smears and breast exams. Abortion is really a small percentage of what we do, so they are really hassling women who are coming in for preventive care, and for birth control. We obviously respect their legal right to protest, but we wish that they would use their energy to help us with preventive care, so people don’t get pregnant in the first place.”
Donald Spitz says that he doesn’t believe in birth control, just as he doesn’t think that rape and incest victims should be allowed to obtain abortions. “Me and my wife never had any kids,” he says when asked. “We would have a houseful of them if my wife had been pregnant, but she never got pregnant.
“So I feel that God had a plan for me.” And that plan, according to the minister, is that he should save other people’s babies. By any means necessary. Would Rev. Donald Spitz ever attempt to be one of those Army of God “heroes” and try to murder an abortion provider?
“I really don’t think so. People have different callings. And my call has always been to be as verbal as I can. I would never want to say never about anything, but I have no plans or thoughts to do that. It’s like me smuggling bibles into China. I support that, but I doubt that I’ll be doing it. It’s possible I might but it’s unlikely.”