For a man who ran for president to save the soul of America from racism, former segregationists’ buddy Joe Biden resembles few people more than the infamously abusive police chief Bull Connor. Both allowed domestic terrorists aligned with the Democratic Party to vandalize, bomb, and set fire to their opponents’ churches with impunity while using maximum force to arrest peaceful, Christian, protesters.
Sixty years later, little more than the names and faces have changed: Connor’s allies rallied behind the banner of white supremacy, while Biden’s supporters mobilize around “abortion on demand without apology.” The Biden administration’s refusal to protect pro-life Christians bears an eerie resemblance to Bull Connor’s collusion and selective prosecution. Imagine how civil rights protesters would have fared if George Wallace won the 1964 presidential election, and you get a sense of Biden’s treatment of peaceful, prayerful, pro-life advocates.
‘We’re Going to Allow You 15 Minutes….’
The Freedom Riders, who tested Southern segregation laws from Virginia to New Orleans, planned to stop in Birmingham on May 14, 1961. The Ku Klux Klan — and the Alabama lawman they helped elect Birmingham’s Commissioner of Public Safety, Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor — had other plans. The KKK plotted a series of coordinated strikes against the protesters spanning multiple cities. Klansmen knew the details of the demonstrators’ travel itinerary, because the Birmingham sheriff’s department told them — and the sheriff’s department knew, because the FBI told them. As the protesters departed Georgia, Martin Luther King Jr. warned the Freedom Riders, “You will never make it through Alabama.”
In the days leading up to their arrival, Bull Connor personally gave the Klan the green light to rough up Yankee “meddlers.” Connor’s right-hand man, Birmingham Police Department Sgt. Thomas H. Cook, arranged for a meeting with a man named Gary Thomas Rowe, a member of a violent chapter of the Klan — but also an FBI informant. Historian Raymond Arsenault recounts the scene:
Unaware that Rowe planned to relay his words to the Birmingham FBI office, Cook laid out an elaborate plot to bring the Freedom Ride to a halt in Birmingham. He assured Rowe that other members of the Birmingham Police Department, as well as officials of the Alabama Highway Patrol, were privy to the plan and could be counted on to cooperate. “You will work with me and I will work with you on the Freedom Riders,” he promised. “We’re going to allow you 15 minutes. …You can beat ‘em, bomb ‘em, maim ‘em, kill ‘em. I don’t give a s***. There will be absolutely no arrests. You can assure every Klansman in the country that no one will be arrested in Alabama for that fifteen minutes.”
“By God, if you’re going to do this thing,” Cook later told the Imperial Wizard of the Alabama Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Robert Shelton, “do it right.” Similarly, Bull Connor instructed the Klan to “make them look like a bulldog got a hold of them.”
The Klan didn’t have to be told twice; they planned to strike twice. They swarmed the first of the two vehicles, a Greyhound bus, when it arrived in nearby Anniston, breaking its windows and slashing its tires. Police escorted the protesters as far as the city limits … where the Klansmen were waiting. One Klansman threw an explosive device into the back of the bus and, as protesters scurried out of the door for their lives, the mob beat them savagely. “Then, God Almighty intervened,” remembered Hank Thomas: The bus’s gas tank exploded in two bursts, frightening the crowd away. “A miracle happened in Anniston.”
Klansmen posed as passengers of the Trailways bus carrying the other group of Freedom Riders. In Anniston, the Klan insisted the riders segregate the bus and pummeled several passengers — including Walter Bergman, then age 61 — to make their point. Although Bergman would remained partially paralyzed for the rest of his life and have to learn to feed himself again, a local policeman told his assailants, “Don’t worry about no lawsuits. I ain’t seen a thing.”
Unfortunately, the real violence awaited in Birmingham. Confident they would face no repercussions, the Klan invited CBS News reporter Howard K. Smith to witness the violence as the bloodied protesters descended the bus stairs to desegregate the terminal’s lunch counters. A mob of Klansmen (including the FBI informant, Rowe) and members of the National States Rights Party swarmed, sometimes beating protesters 12-on-one. The melee continued until one of Connor’s detectives, Red Self, told the Klansmen: “Get the boys out of here. I’m ready to give the signal for the police to move in.”
Faced with local intransigence, the FBI would soon arrest the four people responsible for firebombing the Greyhound, but it would be far from the last act of unpunished violence. A tragic 40 unsolved bombings over two decades earned the city the nickname “Bombingham.”
Not content to outsource his brutality to the Klan, Bull Connor ordered his police to use all means necessary to quash the message of Christian civil rights protesters.
Release the Guilty, Jail the Innocent
Bull Connor’s police proved more likely to arrest peaceful protesters than the Klansmen perpetrators. In April 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” courtesy of Connor’s constabulary. As King and his supporters went to jail for “parading without a permit” (holding unauthorized demonstrations), Connor said:
[W]e are not going to stand for this in Birmingham. And if necessary we will fill the jail full, and we don’t care whose toes we step on. I am saying now to these meddlers from out of our city, the best thing for them to do is stay out if they don’t want to get slapped in jail. … I’ve never seen anyone yet look for trouble who wasn’t able to find it.
Volunteers evaporated from the desegregation campaign. King’s group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), responded with “The Children’s Crusade,” recruiting more than 1,000 schoolchildren to march through Birmingham on May 2 and 3, 1963. As the youngsters left the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church carrying signs with such messages as, “Segregation is a sin,” Connor’s men arrested 959 the first night. But they did not merely apprehend the marchers: Police blasted young children with high-powered firehoses, beat them with batons, and sicced police dogs on them.
The cruelty was the point. The pretense of law masked ruthless hatred, as segregationists used overwhelming force to discourage them from ever again publicly voicing views disfavored by the powerful.
As the French say, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Joe Biden Bull-ies the Pro-Life Movement
Fast forward 60 years, and violent hatemongers with powerful political allies have again received free rein to terrorize their nonviolent, Christian foes. But Jane’s Revenge has enjoyed more than a 15-minute reign of terror. Since the leak of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling last May 2, pro-abortion fanatics have launched a wave of arsons, vandalism, and death threats against at least 101 pro-life churches or pregnancy resource centers. Abortion activists firebombed pro-life pregnancy resource centers in the same way Bull Connor let the Klan firebomb Freedom Riders’ buses — with the same number of arrests: zero. Leftist extremists perpetrated 52 attacks before the FBI even announced its investigation.
This wave of violence, like most cowardly violence, targets the powerless — unborn babies, their desperate mothers, and the nonviolent Christian churches and nonprofits that serve them — but this wave also victimized the powerful with impunity. On June 13, two people threw a lit flare into the offices of Washington State Rep. Andy Barkis (R). Eight days later, vandals smashed the windows at the local office of U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.). Like the Klan in Alabama, pro-abortion fanatics feel confident enough to leave their calling card — often scrawling, “If abortion isn’t safe, neither are you” on pro-life women’s centers and churches — and to alert the media they will take “increasingly drastic measures.”
Biden’s nonfeasance embodies the administration’s defiant message that its ideological opponents enjoy no legal protection — a far cry from the promise Biden made the day after the media declared him winner of the 2020 election: “I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did.” The atmosphere of hatred has resulted in an 84-year-old pro-life woman being shot. (The male suspect said he shot her by accident.)
At least one congressman has connected the dots. The wave of anti-life terrorism represents “the death cult’s echo of the KKK’s burning cross — brazen, violent intimidation,” said Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.). “But the federal government responded to the KKK. Where is the Biden Justice Department amid this violent campaign of national scope?” The administration, and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), instead aim to “put a stop” to pro-life pregnancy resource centers.
“To my knowledge, no one — no one — has been prosecuted under the FACE Act,” noted Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as House Republicans passed a resolution condemning violence against pregnancy resource centers on January 11. J. Edgar Hoover, who shared the racial views of his time, arrested the Anniston bombers in a matter of days. In a world of high-definition security cameras and facial recognition software, Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland have apparently arrested no one in eight months.
At least, no one who shares the administration’s extreme commitment to abortion. “But if you’re a pro-life activist, and you’re praying outside of an abortion clinic like Mark Houck, guess what happens to you?” asked Jordan. “The FBI kicks in your door, arrests you, puts you in handcuffs, and does it in front of your wife and seven children,” using dozens of heavily armed agents. Biden’s DOJ meted out similar treatment to Paul Vaughn, a 55-year-old father of 11. Just as black-and-white footage of Bull Connor unleashing his dogs on children inspired national revulsion of segregation, Biden’s overreach should inspire outrage at federal collusion with the abortion industry.
As pregnancy resource centers burned, in July Biden’s Justice Department established the Reproductive Rights Task Force to take “proactive and defensive legal action” to protect the abortion industry (and punish its foes) — and tapped as its leader Vanita Gupta, who as a “civil rights” officer in Obama’s DOJ tried to force all public schools to allow men to use women’s restrooms, showers, and overnight accommodations or lose all federal funding. She applied her ideological fervor equally well to abortion. Biden’s Justice Department arrested 26 pro-life advocates by last October, with more following, including:
- Franciscan friar Fr. Fidelius Mocinski (whose birth name was Christopher), just as local New Jersey prosecutors dropped charges for conducting his “Red Rose Rescues”: entering abortion facilities and giving mothers red roses. In this case, he lay down in front of an abortion facility’s entrance, just as protesters in the ‘60s laid down in front of Lyndon Johnson’s presidential limousine. (“If any demonstrator ever lays down in front of my car,” cracked segregationist Governor George Wallace of Alabama (D) during the 1968 presidential campaign, “it’ll be the last car he’ll ever lay down in front of.”);
- Nine defendants who entered a Washington, D.C., abortion facility and sang “let there be peace” (as a live-stream of the event shows) in October 2020. At least one of the women had participated in Rose Rescues;
- Eleven defendants who entered an abortion facility in Tennessee in March 2021. If convicted, some of the defendants stand to serve up to 11 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and fines totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars;
- Pastor Daniel Courney of Enfield, N.J., one month after it wrung an agreement out of him not to commit “future FACE Act violations” — which, out of fear, would effectively cause him to end his presence outside abortion facilities; and
- Bevelyn Williams and Edmee Chavannes, who happen to be black women from the South, for allegedly violating the FACE Act as far back as June 2020. (Curiously, their indictment begins with peaceful pro-life activity in 2019.) In one alleged violation in the indictment, Chavannes told an abortion facility employee, “Do not touch me.”
The arrest total seems all the more lopsided, since pro-life women’s centers are 22 times more likely to be attacked than abortion facilities. Both Gupta and Garland touted their work prosecuting pro-life advocates at a civil rights assembly last December. Both invoked Martin Luther King Jr.
As noted, in many cases the Biden administration presses pro-life advocates to sign agreements not to protest any more — a similar tactic employed by the Obama-Biden administration. A federal judge questioned whether the Obama-Biden administration’s prosecution of Mary Susan Pine “was the product of a concerted effort between the Government and the [abortion provider], which began well before the date of the incident at issue, to quell Ms. Pine’s activities.” (Ultimately, the DOJ paid Pine $120,000 in legal fees.) One could be forgiven for asking the same question of these cases.
A trial may conclude some of these acts violated the law, just as civil rights protesters violated the law of their day — the law their peaceful, prayerful actions aimed to change. But today’s prayerful pro-life advocates see their homes raided, not aided, by the federal government led by a vice president who raised bail money for the BLM’s “mostly peaceful” rioters. They face enormous legal bills, a criminal record, huge fines, and perhaps more than a decade in prison.
Despite these pressures, the pro-life movement has not buckled, as the terrorists and their federal government enablers wished. When bombed, they have rebuilt. When denied protection, they have secured their ministries of mercy. When denied justice, they hired their own private investigators. They have suffered long and done good. They have emerged from the fiery crucible of persecution with a stronger resolve to help the weak and save the innocent. The pro-life movement is “hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed — always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” … And, one day, manifested in our laws.
We shall overcome.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.
EDITORS NOTE: This The Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved. The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.