TEN YEARS AGO, Dick Andrews was just another angry face in the crowd of protesters outside Seattle-area women's clinics. Today, federal prosecutors call Andrews a serial arsonist and the pro-life version of Timothy McVeigh. The 60-year-old former Wenatchee insurance salesman goes on trial this month in Sacramento for the setting of three California abortion-clinic fires. The feds also link him to five other arsons at Western clinics from 1992 to 1995.
No one was hurt in the blazes at clinics in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and California, which prompted a national manhunt in 1995. Andrews came under suspicion in 1996 and was arrested in June of last year. Now under electronically monitored supervision at his Wenatchee home, he has pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors apparently plan to make the case a showpiece of the Clinton administration's declared crackdown on violence at abortion clinics. They've spared no rhetoric in describing the trail Andrews is accused of literally blazing, comparing his militant politics to those of the Oklahoma City mass murderer McVeigh.
According to federal documents, Andrews quit his insurance job in late 1991 after a court ruling (in a lawsuit brought by Seattle's Aradia Women's Health Center) barred him and fellow Operation Rescue protesters from demonstrating on private clinic property. That same week, assistant US attorney Ben Wagner alleges, Andrews began his new career as arsonist when the first of the eight western fires swept a Helena, Montana, clinic.
Wagner says red plastic containers of gasoline used to start all eight of the fires resemble those found in Andrews' car when he was stopped in Vancouver, Washington, for a traffic violation in 1996. Road flares and other materials similar to evidence found in Andrews' car were also used in some of the arsons. "Just as [Timothy] McVeigh's views of the [Branch Davidian] Waco incident were relevant to his motive to turn to violence," Wagner says, "so Andrews' reaction to the [blockade] shutdown is relevant to his motive to turn to violence." (In 1989, Andrews told The Wenatchee World his anti-abortion mission was "a religious act of repentance" for family sorrows—a failed marriage, one son a suicide victim, the other in prison, and a new daughter by his second marriage suffering from cystic fibrosis.)
Not to be rhetorically outdone by the feds, Andrews' Seattle attorneys compare their client to another famous figure: Richard Jewell, who was wrongly accused of the Olympic Village bombing in Atlanta. "Janet Reno continues to persecute members of the pro-life community, and this case is part of that," attorney Kevin Gibbs says, contending US agents were under pressure to make an arrest, as they were in the Jewell case. His partner, Thomas Olmstead, who represented Andrews and other pro-life demonstrators after their first arrests here 10 years ago, vows to prove Andrews' innocence. "There is no direct evidence linking Richard Andrews to these fires," Olmstead says. "It is merely the fact that he was involved in the pro-life movement that allowed the government to focus on him. He is not an arsonist."