Senate Candidate Todd Akin’s Anti-Abortion Acquaintances from the Late ’80s

Right Wing Watch has broken a story of Republican Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s 1987 arrest for blocking access to a women’s health clinic. Two names that popped up in their investigation were those of John Ryan and Tim Dreste. 

John Ryan, then head of the Pro-Life Direct Action League, served as the spokesperson for the 1987 clinic blockade protest that resulted in Akin’s and many others’ arrests. Dreste would take over the group only a few months later. And according to the RWW piece, Akin associated with both of them:

The Post-Dispatch quoted the spokesman for the protesters, John Ryan, who said the actions “were in honor of Mother’s Day.” At the time, Ryan was head of the Pro-Life Direct Action League. He and his organization were among those sued by the National Organization for Women in 1986, which sought to “stop what it called a nationwide conspiracy to close abortion clinics.”…

This is who Akin chose to get involved with in 1987—and it gets worse. Ryan was pushed out as head of the Pro-Life Direct Action League around September 1987 and replaced by an aggressive, fundamentalist leader, Tim Dreste. …

[In October 1988] Akin appeared at an event for Dreste’s new group, Whole Life Ministries.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Dreste at some point became a leader in the American Coalition of Life Activists, a group most known for its role in creating and compiling the so-called “Nuremberg Files”: online dossiers on abortion providers and abortion supporters including their work addresses, photos, and places of worship. There was a trial, and Dreste himself was fined millions in damages, according to a 1999 investigative piece on Dreste by the St. Louis Riverfront Times:

The defendants, two anti-abortion groups and 12 individuals, including Dreste, were not charged with any of the 40 clinic bombings or seven murders that took place in the U.S. between 1983 and 1999, but they were accused by two abortion-rights groups and four abortion providers of setting off some of that violence through the use of websites, literature, and posters. Dreste, in the middle of it all, was implicated in highly coordinated campaigns and conspiracies that the court found to be “true threats” not sheltered by the First Amendment.

Melinda Roth’s RFT piece is really worth a read, because it discusses Dreste’s upbringing in a small Apostolic Christian church in Hazelwood, a suburb of St. Louis:

His family, the church, stresses doing God’s work from a more practical point of view than many fundamentalist Protestant denominations, always reminding members that gaining entrance to heaven isn’t like buying a lottery ticket. There is no magic to it, no speaking in tongues, no handling snakes, no eternal security. You work hard here on Earth, quietly, diligently, to retire in eternity. Your works are an outward manifestation of your faith, and your faith is what saves you. A young woman wedged in behind an organ calls out, “Somebody pick a hymn,” and somebody else calls back, “How about 392?” There are no candles, no potted lilies, no ushers passing trays. There are no heavily robed ministers—it’s the congregation’s job to learn and teach—so Dreste’s uncle, after the hymn, approaches the small podium to teach a lesson about the shootings in Colorado. While the congregation listens attentively, there are no amens, hallelujahs or praise-the-Lords; all eyes, at one point of the sermon or another, sneak a look at the back pew, where I’m seated. Afterward, several people ask politely, “So, how do you know Tim?” He later confesses that the church is trying to get him married. Most of the family and friends who’ve known Dreste over the years describe him as a “normal kid,” “nice guy,” “smart as a whip” — but always add, “I never saw this coming.” Whether they mean the militant anti-abortion activism he has engaged in since 1985 or his federal conviction this March is swallowed up in the person they knew “before.”

I coudn’t turn up anything on what Dreste’s been doing lately, but this book suggests he may have moved on to the right-wing militia movement. Any readers in St. Louis know if he and Ryan are still around and still engaging in activism?

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