Albion Monitor /Features
 Crusade: One Soldier's Story

Soldier in The Army of God

by Anne Bower

Christians don't do that kind of thing, do they? But prayer and God cleared that up

At first, Shelley Shannon was content to perform civil disobedience with Operation Rescue. According to her own notes, she engaged in 35 different actions, beginning in 1988. She kept track of her "rescues" and her jail time in a computer file, titled "Mom's Jail Time Total." By her count, the total was 98 days.

But during 1991, according to her sentencing report, Shannon underwent a transformation from civil disobedience to violence. She wrote about it in a document entitled "Join the Army:"

The biggest hurdle was being willing to even consider that God could indeed require this work of anyone. Christians don't do that kind of thing, do they? but prayer and God cleared that up. Then I realized that I needed to stop the killing too.

She also began to correspond with men and women named in the "Prisoner's of Christ" list. This dialogue convinced her that most rescuerers were not willing to put their convictions into action because they were unwilling to pay the price. Taking inspiration from these arsonists, bombers, and kidnappers, Shannon decided to risk her freedom. She was especially encouraged by arsonist Marjorie Reed who wrote:

If you are going to get a year for just blocking the doors, you might as well do much more drastic measures.... It is going to get a whole lot worse. Blood will be shed, not just the babies blood either.

Shelley Shannon recorded her last blockade as November 17, 1992. By then, this wife and mother of two teenage children, had committed herself to violence and engaged in a year-long arson and butyric acid bombing spree across three states.

Was so sure it was God's how, when, and where. Why no results?

In her conversations with journalist Judy Thomas, Shannon said as early as the 1991 siege of Wichita clinics by Operation Rescue, she was convinced that violence was the way to further her goals. The sentencing report stated Shannon had the will, but not the way until she read two books: "When Bricks Bleed, I'll Cry" by convicted arsonist Michael Bray of Maryland, and an early version of the "Army of God."

By the time she read the Army of God, Shannon had already embarked on a career of d.r. (direct rescue), beginning in 1992 with an attack on a clinic in Ashland. She recounts her experiences as novice bomber in "Join the Army or How to Destroy a Killing Center if You're Just an Old Grandma Who Can't Even Get the Fire Started in Her Fireplace." Shannon wrote,

God, if you really want me to do this, you're gonna have to show me how, because I can't even get the fire started in my fireplace. The ideas kept coming, including thoughts from people who had accomplished Big Rescue. My plan was to fill five plastic milk cartons (the kind with the pop off tops) with gasoline, throw them through the window, throw in a lit torch (a stick with oil-soaked rags tied on the end), and scram. I had to know for sure I had God's how, when, and where before I would act. If I was going to spend what's left of my life in prison or die in an explosion, I was at least going to do so in the will of God!

Shannon practiced her technique and got the final go-ahead from God when she found herself wanting a five gallon gas can which miraculously appeared in her garage. (Her husband brought it home from work, where they were throwing them out.) With this sign, Shannon purchased the final pieces for her arson kit and set out to commit her first felony. She writes,

The goals in order of priority were: 1) shut the place down good. 2) Nobody gets hurt, hopefully not even me. 3) Not get caught.

As bumbling as was her first attempt, Shannon did succeed in starting a fire in Ashland that caused considerable damage.

It was after this success she wrote and distributed "Join the Army" with the pen name "Shaggy West" to encourage others to follow her example.

In a second document called "Adventures", Shannon writes of her next arson:

Was feeling really restless and wanted more to do. Debated getting a job. Asked people to pray for me, for God's guidance. Was reading my Bible and God clearly said, 'I'm going to require a little more of you, Shelley.' and the Scripture I read just then was 'The way of the righteous is made plain' in Proverbs 15:19, and an idea come to me of tossing jugs of gas on the roof of Lovejoy and lighting it with a firework (have lots of ground bloom flowers which throw out sparks but aren't too noisey). Practiced and found I can't throw whole gallons high enough. Looked at old videos and thought the roof in back wasn't too high and was flat. Got really great maps and directions from A.C. Alibi was to be at W.P.'s (John Bell) so I wanted to leave here kinda late, but was ready and thought Pups was getting suspicious because I was hanging around, so I left.

Although she told her diary she read the Army of God manual earlier that day, (and that she really enjoyed it), this arson was not very successful. She wrote in sorrow to Michael Bray,

Was so sure it was God's how, when, and where. Why no results?

Rev. Bray reassured her, "Little oaks fell mighty oaks" and she was comforted. Shannon also received encouragement in July from Marjorie Reed complimenting Shannon on her "artwork", their code name for arson. With "a little help from her friends", including John Bell, who, according to Shannon's sentencing report, had fantasized in 1991 about the" hypothetical possibility of torching several clinics" Shaggy West embarked on another adventure.

W.P. got me maps and instructions. Stopped there. Was supposed to do Alhambra in Sacramento, go a few blocks and do F.W.H.C. (Feminist Women's Health Center) then make it to Reno. It looked impossible. Big cities terrify me, I can't see well, especially at night, and I get lost easier than anyone. Made it to Alhambra. Could not find it. Drove by and drove by. Some old guy with his doggy got suspicious, I could tell. Smiled and waved but he didn't return it. Glad I was out of charcoal for fake (obviously) beard. Had hair tied back and camouflage shirt though, and parked and walked up and down.

Shannon continued to F.W.H.C. where she succeeded in starting a fire, even though she "forgot to light the napalm."

This should provide entertainment for investigators. What kind of terrorist attack could this big hard white soap/gas lump be!?

Unfortunately, Shannon had set fire to the California Board of Chiropractic Examiners, not a clinic.

Culprits often get inspired at the same time. Holy Ghost.

Undaunted, Shannon tried her hand at "liquid rescue:" butyric acid, a colorless, but extremely vile-smelling liquid that can cause harm to humans and devastate property with its nauseous indelible odor.

W.P. insisted I try to get some liquid rescue (butyric acid). Asked M.G. to send some. But then I was at Pat's and he ordered some other stuff, found out he could get it, so put in an order. W.P. sent $80. It came. Cancelled order from M.G. Got the disgusting stuff. Had it around here a while. We opened it at Pat's and just from touching the outside of the jar my hand stunk for a very long time!

Acting on instructions from the Army of God manual, Shannon purchased syringes to deliver the acid into building walls. While making these preparations in September, Shannon began yearning to commit another arson and drove to Eugene to attack the Feminist Women's Health Center -- an attack foiled when the fire melted a plastic watering pipe which extinguished the blaze.

According to the sentencing report, Shannon immediately proceeded to Reno where she gained entry to a clinic by pretending to be a patient. While in the bathroom she made a hole in the wall with an ice pick and emptied four hypos of butyric acid. As she told her diary,

In car I changed needles and guess I bagged up used ones. I had got far more than one drop on me. Even tasted it. It's awful. Didn't dump them at rest area on the way to Susanville though. Stinks! M.G. told me baking soda mixed in water, so I had jugs and extra, but it doesn't get it good. Plus used lysol, purfume.(sic)

The next day, Shannon succeeded in causing similar damage to a clinic in Chico, California. In two days, Shannon had attacked three clinics. She wrote of these "adventures,"

The same week these happened, eight mills in Michigan also had butyric acid attacks, followed by at least four more the next week, PtL! (Praise the Lord) Culprits often get inspired at the same time. Holy Ghost.

November, 1992 was Shannon's final arson. Her computer file "cristadvent 2" tells that over the past two months she had been studying explosives and learned "how to blow up a building real good with acetylene gas." She contemplated doing that to three different sites in one night, and even reconnoitered for the purpose, but eventually settled on just attacking the Alhambra clinic. The Thanksgiving holiday with most family out of the house (except her sick son, who she sent away) gave her an opportunity to get the gasoline needed and make preparations. According to her account, as she left on this final mission she was in a wonderful frame of mind.

Didn't even care if I made it back, or care so much about getting caught or killed, just wanted to close the place good. It was supposed to be a birthday present to Jesus, early for expediency, but I found it was He who gave me a gift. From Him and to Him and through Him. What could I do for Him or give Him? Trip was so good. Fresh batteries, so I listened to White Cross a lot. Someone was definitely praying for me, and I expect that Curt (Beseda) was probably even fasting for me and the work, knowing him.

Shannon's final arson was a hugh success, resulting in $175,000 damage. The clinic was forced to relocate, and slight injury was caused to a firefighter. In her narrative of this event she said, "Hope no one was hurt or anything," but by January 1993, there was a change in her attitude which ultimately resulted in her attempt on the life Kansas Dr. George Tiller.

Gunn would ever have repented or if he would have killed another 5,000 babies and probably 3 or 4 more women who probably weren't Christians either

Her transformation manifested in January of 1993 when Shannon wrote a letter to Life Advocate magazine, a publication that has condoned violence to end abortion. In the letter Shannon, referring to the recent spate of attacks on clinics (some of her own making) said,

I'm sure the bombers are acting in the will of God, and doubt they would or should stop if a guilty bystander or innocent person is hurt. If they don't act, a lot of people will be killed. Let's pray no one gets hurt, but this is war and we have to be realistic.

Two months after this letter appeared, Dr. David Gunn was shot in the back as he attempted to enter Pensacola Medical Services. The murderer, Michael Griffin, was immediately taken into custody. In "Next Advent," her computer file diary, Shannon said of the murder,

He didn't shoot Mother Teresa, he shot a mass murderer such as Saddam Hussien (sic) or Hitler. I don't even think it is accurately termed 'murder'. God is the only one who knows whether Gunn would ever have repented or if he would have killed another 5,000 babies and probably 3 or 4 more women who probably weren't Christians either.

With these chilling words, the quiet housewife embarked on her own path to murder.

I'm praying God will push more of us 'off the deep end'

The murder of David Gunn shocked the pro-choice community and was the beginning of the awakening of the public and law enforcement that things were getting serious in the trenches. Many in the Right-to-Life community were astonished that their years of calling abortion "murder" and doctors "baby killers" had resulted in such action. Some in the "rescue" community, who had been willing to blockade clinics and hassle women with "sidewalk counseling," were not prepared to condone cold-blooded murder. Michael Griffin was roundly condemned in many circles.

But not by Shelley Shannon. She wrote in "Christ Advent,"

I'm not convinced that God didn't require it of Michael to do this. It is possible. I'm praying God will push more of us 'off the deep end'...

Before his trial, Shannon began corresponding with Griffin and eventually spoke with him by telephone. In her diary she noted that Michael called her and said of him, "He is definitely a Christian." She was very upset by the apparent lack of support for Griffin in the pro-life community.

In her diary, Shannon expressed the belief that God could not lead her to do anything sinful, even if it seemed so to the outside world -- a place that was fast receding from Shannon's consciousness. Just as Michael had been called to u.d.r., she believed her path had become clear. God asked her to kill, and after praying on it and reading the Bible, she finally had no doubt. Her only prayer now was, "please help me do it right."

I'm not denying I shot Tiller. But I deny that it was wrong

Shannon's target was Dr. George Tiller, a physician who practiced in Wichita, Kansas and was a major target of the anti-abortion movement. Dr. Tiller was especially hated because he performed late term abortions for which he was nicknamed "Tiller the Killer." In a letter to her daughter Angie written in prison after her arrest, Shannon tells the story of her quest to emulate Michael.

She obtained a .25 caliber pistol from an unnamed friend and practiced shooting at her home. A bus took her to Oklahoma City where she rented a car and drove to Wichita. Posing as a patient, she was unable to kill the doctor inside the clinic. Eventually she left the building and hung around outside with the protesters, where she says she got the idea to shoot the doctor when he drove out. Around 7:00 pm the doctor and another woman left. Shannon explained to her daughter how she made her move.

Finally they both came out, and fortunately her car was right in from of him, so if he lost control, his vehicle would only smash into hers. So I kept praying, shot, and took off. It never occurred to me that people would come after me, but they did!

Both the woman and doctor Tiller -- who was not seriously wounded -- chased Shannon, but she got away and headed for Oklahoma City. Enroute she ditched the gun, which was never recovered. But before she could get on a plane home, Shannon was taken into custody.

That was August 19, 1993. Shannon has not been a free woman since. She was easily convicted and sentenced to 11 years for attempted murder. In her prison letters to Angie, Shannon showed no remorse for her actions. A few days after the shooting she wrote,

I'm not denying I shot Tiller. But I deny that it was wrong. It was the most holy, most righteous thing I've ever done. I have no regrets. I hope he's not killing babies today. If he is, at least I tried.

Some in the anti-abortion community supported her actions, especially Rev. Paul Hill who came to her trial. Rev. Hill had emerged on the anti-choice scene a few days after the murder of Dr. Gunn. He was first seen on the "Donahue Show" arguing that Dr. Gunn's murder was justifiable homicide, a theme he continued until July 28, 1994 when he gunned down Dr. John Britton and his volunteer escort, Colonel James Barrett.

Whatever you do, don't talk about how I influenced you to do what you did, especially any conversations beforehand, most especially the particulars (gun, etc.)

After murdering the doctor and his escort, Paul Hill was immediately apprehended and taken to jail. The government sentencing report on Shannon says that before these murders, Shannon had established a correspondence with Hill and supported his murderous action as she had that of Michael Griffin.

In a letter to a friend in September, 1994, Shannon wrote,

Some Christians are publicly saying Paul Hill sinned in what he did, that he is a murderer, and even that he 'acted as satan's agent.' I'm totally convinced that God called Paul to do what he did, and he obeyed... Protecting babies, stopping the murders of the innocent, is right and just, even if it takes the use of force to do so. I certainly won't condemn Paul Hill. We correspond, and his letters are very encouraging and often quite humorous.

According to the government sentencing report, Hill and Shannon were doing more than sharing amusing anecdotes. They were also discussing strategies for violence. In March, 1995 Shannon had written her "Brave Soldier" and cautioned,

It appears there is quite a delay in my outgoing mail now too. So help me in the race: Whatever you do, don't talk about how I influenced you to do what you did, especially any conversations beforehand, most especially the particulars (gun, etc.), unless of course you use our codewords."

If Paul Hill did, indeed, take Shannon's advice, she bears some responsibility for his current status -- inmate on death row awaiting execution.

The year ended with a bang thanks to John Salvi III

After her conviction on attempted murder, Shannon finally had to face judgment for her previous escapades. While in custody in Portland awaiting trial on arson, Shannon wrote a "Christmas letter" to her supporters giving her assessment of events in 1994,

Well, for the ARMY OF GOD 1994 was a pretty great year. Paul Hill performed a termination procedure on an abortionist and his accomplice, and may be put to death for his obedience to God, a most honorable way for a Christian to die. In Canada an abortionist was shot, and the culprits(s) are still free, as far as I know. There were quite a few fires and bombings at American death camps and no one was arrested in connection with them, that I know of.

The year ended with a bang thanks to John Salvi III. I have to admire his determination. Even after they knew who he was, he took his gun to another mill rather than hiding out and quitting. God, please help and bless him.

But 1995 was not a good year for Shannon. She was found guilty of arson and sentenced to 20 more years to be served consecutively with the previous 11. While in custody, Shannon -- in a moment of weakness, or perhaps self-interest -- talked to authorities about information in her diaries and letters. In effect, she ratted on some of her fellow soldiers.

They may know for instance, that whoever wrote the Army of God Book also did this or that

By April 1995, Shannon's conscience prompted her to write a long public confession of her "sins" in Prayer and Action Weekly News, a nationally circulated newslette. In this article, Shannon attempted to warn fellow soldiers what she had told the feds using code words.

She admitted two people had convinced her to shoot doctors and another had read a book on how to be a "hit man" and planned to kill doctors "sniper style." Dr. Allred was to be one of the targets. A lady in Kansas was identified as the person who gave Shannon her first copy of the Army of God. The feds have her name and the letter she sent. Shannon received other copies anonymously.

She says,

Going through my diaries they learned:... John Witte sent me 'Determined Rescue Info' (clippings on Beaumont, a Rescue America Newsletter, and a couple of other clippings); I wrote Fairy Tale (I was both Shaggy West and Mad Momma); ... had saved a letter from Danny B. explaining a way to blow up a building; contents of mail to Don Anderson, and what the 'incriminating' call he got a write-up for was about (bombing, shooting, etc.)...

Her parting words to her fellow comrades in arms were a warning:

I hope the soldiers out there leave other people out of their activities. Don't even tell anyone anything, or you may put them in the position of possibly having to choose between their freedom or yours some day. If you keep diaries and notes, the Feds will take them very seriously after your arrest.... And remember, they are putting together puzzles. They may know for instance, that whoever wrote the Army of God Book also did this or that..

Her government deal began to fall apart when Shannon failed two polygraph tests, claiming she did not know the identity of Atomic Dog or the Mad Gluer, author of the first edition of Army of God. The government used the newsletter article, claiming her writing was "patently designed to endorse and encourage continued violence, to promote clandestine activities in support of violence, to protect violent offenders, and to thwart law enforcement efforts to apprehend lawbreakers."

A letter to Paul Hill explained her reason for writing the article.

... I do want to do what I can as far as damage repair. Those who know will know what was true and what wasn't. My attorney is mad at me for lying to him also. Burn this letter.

Good advice. If Shannon had listened to herself, she might not be spending the next 30 years in prison.

Today, back in Kansas prison, Shannon is seldom visited by family or old friends. Her daughter has recentyl been arrested for a 1993 death threat on a California doctor. But she still remains a good little soldier in the Army of God.

Anne Bower is editor and publisher of The Body Politic, where this article first appeared. Subscriptions for the monthly news magazine are $22.00 a year, and available from POB 2363 Binghamton, NY 13902.

Albion Monitor February 18, 1996 (

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