WASHINGTON -- As he stood vigil outside a Wichita, Kan., courtroom this spring in support of a fellow anti-abortion extremist on trial for shooting an abortion doctor, Paul Hill explained that he believed he had been called by God to pray for those who commit violence, but did not believe that God wanted him to shoot doctors himself.
As the leader of his tiny, self-styled group, Defensive Action, he has traveled the country over the past year encouraging anti-abortion violence, telling fun damentalist groups that murdering abortion providers was tantamount to "justifiable homicide."
He even appeared on "The Phil Donahue Show," where he endorsed last year's killing of Pensacola abortion physician Dr. David Gunn.
"We all have different callings, and my calling is to minister" to those who kill doctors, Mr. Hill, 40, said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in March. "It's largely a matter of calling. I've taken up the weapon I'm most comfortable with. I've taken up the weapon of the spirit."
But yesterday, after Mr. Hill was arrested and charged with the shotgun slayings of a Pensacola abortion doctor and his escort and the wounding of a third person, it appeared that Mr. Hill had begun to practice what he preached.
In fact, yesterday's slayings mark the first time that a leader of a militant anti-abortion group has been charged with an abortion-related killing.
As a result, the case will almost certainly make it far more difficult for anti-abortion leaders to dismiss such crimes as isolated incidents, as they have with earlier shootings. And it could intensify scrutiny of the militant subculture of the anti-abortion movement by federal investigators.
Congressional leaders yesterday urged the Clinton administration and the FBI to mount a major undercover investigation of anti-abortion groups to prevent further violence. Yesterday the FBI joined the investigation into the Pensacola slayings.
Mr. Hill's arrest could put dozens of leaders of anti-abortion groups on the spot, since many of them have signed petitions circulated by Mr. Hill endorsing acts of murder.
"This is not an isolated incident, and it was not committed by an isolated nut," Eleanor Smeal, president of the Fund for the Feminist Majority, charged at a Washington news conference yesterday. "Paul Hill is a leader of a group advocating what he calls 'justifiable homicide,' and many people in this movement have signed his petitions."
Mr. Hill first gained public attention after the shooting death in March 1993 of Dr. Gunn in Pensacola. He created Defensive Action largely to provide support for Michael Griffin, an anti-abortion protester who was convicted in Dr. Gunn's murder earlier this year.