Wayward son

The Irving stepmother of a man linked to the shootings of abortion doctors wrestles with questions about his involvement

As authors James Risen and Judy Thomas report in their book Wrath of Angels, an account of the anti-abortion movement in America, the name "Army of God" was first used in 1982 by a group of anti-abortion activists who kidnapped Dr. Hector Zevallos in Edwardsville, Illinois. It was used again in 1985 in connection with a series of abortion-clinic bombings, and next surfaced in the Army of God manual. "It's a genuine manual of terror," says Potok. "And in the 'special thanks' section at the front, the very first name mentioned is Atomic Dog, the nickname Jim Kopp was given in jail in Atlanta."

For their part, neither Potok nor FBI officials believe the Army of God is a single organized group of terrorists. "It wasn't the Red Brigades; it wasn't launched by some underground central committee. At least, that's not the way it looks," explains Potok. "It's much more likely that this is a loose-knit, quasi-underground of anti-abortion extremists. Sure, they have contacts with each other...But most of them don't know the details of what the other is up to." The Justice Department, which investigated the possibility of an organized criminal conspiracy behind anti-abortion violence, apparently came to the same conclusion when it disbanded its task force in 1996.

Potok does, however, believe the 44-year-old Kopp may be associated with a group known as the Lambs of Christ. "One of the persons in jail in 1988 in Atlanta was Norm Weslin. Weslin formed a kind of hard-line anti-abortion group called the Lambs of Christ." As Potok notes, Weslin has been operating out of Rochester, New York, for about two years--the site of one of the five shootings that Kopp is wanted in connection with.

"I can't say definitively that Kopp is a member of the Lambs of Christ," Potok cautions. "But there's a lot of circumstantial evidence." Potok points to reports out of Buffalo that Kopp was arrested along with members of Weslin's group, as well as to Kopp's recent Vermont address. "Vermont has for some years had a very strong Lambs of Christ presence," he says, adding that Weslin was seen at protests in Wichita, Kansas, driving a recreational vehicle with Vermont plates.

Throughout the 1990s, Kopp lived the life of a wanderer. Driver's licenses were issued to him in South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas. Since 1990, he has been arrested in West Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Vermont, listing address in Ohio, California, and Vermont.

The information seems to match that given by Kopp's family. Throughout the '90s, Kopp's stepmother says, he has drifted from place to place protesting. "He worked for Mother Theresa's ministry in the Bronx in 1991," she says. (A spokeswoman for the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa's order in the Bronx, says, "We don't know who he is," though she adds that it's possible he volunteered but no one remembers him.) When his sister Anne moved to Delaware, he moved a few miles away from her. In between Lynn Kopp would get the occasional report from family members. Two summers ago, she says, Kopp was living on the East Coast in a mobile home that doubled as a sanctuary for pregnant women. Last summer, he went on a mission in the Philippines. And she'll never forget the last time she heard from him directly.

"He sent me a thank you note after [his dad's] funeral," she recalls. "It was written on a piece of brown grocery sack. It said, 'Lynn--Thanks for your hospitality. Jim.'"

Lynn Kopp, meanwhile, actually prefers to think that her stepson may be part of some organized anti-abortion group responsible for the violence--a decoy of sorts. "You know, I keep thinking that maybe he isn't the one," she says. "I mean, I don't give a damn at this point whether he is or not. But I can't help thinking, maybe it's a smokescreen [that Kopp's car was spotted in the vicinity of Slepian's house], maybe someone else is really the guy.

"You know, I can see Jim Kopp just laughing at everybody. Because he always had that attitude.

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