CINCINNATI - John Brockhoeft bristles at the use of the word violence to describe the war he has waged against abortion.
For Brockhoeft, who went to prison for setting fire to two Cincinnati abortion clinics and for trying to bomb another, such actions are justified.
"When you call the destruction of a facility like that, where people are tortured to death, when you call the use of force against that violence, you're using pro-abortion rhetoric," Brockhoeft said in a wide-ranging and exclusive interview last week. "You're pretending not to be able to make the distinction between violence and the use of force."
Asked if he regretted his crimes or the years he served in federal prison, Brockhoeft is definitive.
"For me, personally, was it worth it? Incredibly so," he said.
Brockhoeft launched his crusade against abortion in the 1980s with the Tri-State as his battleground.
As part of a militant group known as the Army of God, Brockhoeft set fires to two local abortion clinics in 1985 and planted a pipe bomb at the temporary offices of one of them in 1987.
The attacker's identity was a mystery until federal agents arrested Brockhoeft in Florida with bomb-making materials in his car in May 1988.
After serving seven years in federal prison, Brockhoeft largely has remained out of the spotlight since his release.
In an exclusive interview with WCPO Digital, Brockhoeft spoke of his crimes, of the years he served in federal prison and of the cause to end what he sees as the evil of abortion – a cause to which he remains committed.
On the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, WCPO Digital found Brockhoeft living in a small home in rural Adams County, about 70 miles east of Cincinnati, with his second wife and their six children.
Now an over-the-road truck driver, he regularly drives across a multi-state region for his work.
Reflecting on his time in prison, Brockhoeft said, "I lost seven years of my life, but I gained a beautiful young wife who loves me, and six more children, besides the three I already had. I couldn't imagine life without any one of those children … I never would've met this woman, my wife, if I hadn't done that. She wrote to me in prison, out of the blue."
Moreover, Brockhoeft stays in contact with his fellow activists in the Army of God, and envisions stopping all abortions by "people taking to the streets and demanding an end to it."
"I foresee victory – complete victory – but I don't know how long it will take," he said. "If you had asked me 30 years ago if this slaughter would go on for 40 years, I would've said no. God would bring judgment down before that. But here we are, 40 years later. I am still positive the Lord will give us victory someday. When? I don't know."
To turn the tide he thinks it will take grassroots action, not legislation or judicial rulings.
"I think it will happen one of two ways: Either God's judgment coming down on our nation, or a great revival and people taking to the streets and demanding an end to it," he said.
Now 61, Brockhoeft could be mistaken for anyone's kindly grandfather with his bushy beard and soft-spoken demeanor. Few would guess that he was once labeled a domestic terrorist.
In fact, Brockhoeft was featured in an article last March in the Highland County Press, along with two other military veterans. Then-Congresswoman Jean Schmidt presented Brockhoeft with three medals she helped him obtain for his service with the Navy during the Vietnam War. There was no mention of his criminal past.
During the 1980s, Brockhoeft was a mail handler who lived in Hebron, Ky. Raised a Methodist, he later became a self-described fundamentalist Christian. He credits a column written by conservative Pat Buchanan in 1984 for inspiring his attacks on clinics.
"Something about what he said that day made me stop looking at it from a statistical perspective and suddenly I saw these babies as specific individuals," Brockhoeft said.
"Here you have this baby girl who's waited thousands of years in the heart of God for her only chance at life in this world, and a few weeks ago she was conceived finally, after all this time, and tomorrow her mother is planning on taking her in to be dismembered," he said.
The epiphany would lead to a trail of fire and destruction in Cincinnati.
In December 1985, Brockhoeft set a fire in the basement of the Margaret Sanger Center of Planned Parenthood on Auburn Avenue in Mount Auburn. It caused $75,000 in damage, and the clinic was closed for about six months while the building was demolished and a new structure was built.
At the same time, Brockhoeft set fire to the Women's Health Care Center on East McMillan Street in Mount Auburn, causing $250,000 in damage.
Later, in February 1987, Brockhoeft placed a
pipe bomb outside the temporary offices of the Sanger Center, but it was discovered and removed before it exploded.
Today, Brockhoeft insists he took extra care to ensure employees and patients weren't hurt in his attacks.
"Yes, I did worry about that and I used all the precautions that I could," he said. "Before I would burn an abortion facility, I would go there many nights, make many trips there and watch from a distance to make sure there was no activity in there at nighttime."
"In fact, the night that I burned Planned Parenthood, when I got there and waited a little while to make sure, I discovered the janitor was in there and I had to leave and come back," Brockhoeft recalled. "I had to leave and come back about three times, I think."
Brockhoeft's days of setting fires and planting bombs came to an end in May 1988, when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested him near Pensacola, Fla. Tipped off by his first wife, agents stopped Brockhoeft's car and found steel pipe, explosive chemicals and detonators – which he planned to use to blow up an abortion clinic in Florida.
During a subsequent investigation, Brockhoeft was indicted on five counts of arson and one count of attempted arson for attacks in Cincinnati and Columbus.
To this day, he is coy about whether he was involved with five other attacks at clinics in Cincinnati and around Ohio the late 1970s, all of which remain unsolved.
Some of the charges filed against him ultimately were dropped after Brockhoeft agreed to a plea deal. He was sentenced to 26 months for the thwarted Pensacola attack, and another seven years for the Ohio incidents.
While Brockhoeft was imprisoned, he wrote what became known as "The Brockhoeft Report." The newsletter espoused his hardline views for using force to stop abortion and the physicians who perform the procedure. Among his fellow militants, he was viewed as a martyr.
Originally, the newsletter was edited by Shelley Shannon, an Oregon woman who was later convicted for shooting and injuring Dr. George Tiller, a Kansas physician, in 1993.
Shannon is serving a total of 30 years for attacking Tiller and setting fire to abortion clinics. Later, another anti-abortion activist assassinated Tiller in his church in 2009.
Brockhoeft was released from a detention facility in Burlington, Ky. in February 1995. As a condition of probation he was prohibited from associating with his former colleagues or being active in anti-abortion causes for several years.
Those conditions have long since lapsed, and Brockhoeft has reconnected with his Army of God comrades.
"The Army of God organization? What Army of God organization," he replied at first, cracking a smile, when asked about the group.
"There's a bunch of us old fogeys that have taken action and a couple of ladies, also. But anybody can say they're a member of the Army of God," Brockhoeft said. "There's no real organization where somebody orders anybody else around and gives commands. Some of us convicts gather from time to time, we have picnics or we go to national events. We get together and reminisce."
Groups that monitor violent extremists said Brockhoeft's description is disingenuous.
The National Abortion Federation describes the Army of God as "an underground network of domestic terrorists who believe that the use of violence is appropriate and acceptable as a means to end abortion."
The self-styled army distributes a manual to members that is "a ‘how-to' for abortion clinic violence. It details methods for blockading entrances, butyric acid attacks, arson, bomb-making, and other illegal activities," the federation states.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization that monitors and exposes hate groups in the United States, describes the army as a loosely affiliated group that is dangerous.
Mark Potok, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the Army of God is more a concept than an actual group. Still, Potok said the Army of God believes in "justifiable homicide" to achieve its goals and the group is believed to be responsible for at least seven deaths.
"There is kind of a core group of hardliners who all know each other and have been to prison," Potok said. "People associated with this idea are incredibly dangerous."