Training a New Generation of Antiabortion Extremists

A 10-day boot camp aims to radicalize the next generation of antiabortion extremists and train them on how to terrorize women seeking reproductive healthcare and their providers. 

Police arrest an antiabortion activist from Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust in front of the White House on July 14, 2005. Demonstrators were asking then-President George W. Bush to nominate a justice for the Supreme Court that would vote to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

From June 15-25, the Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust (SAH) hosted their 27th annual antiabortion extremist training program. This 10-day long program in Washington, D.C. was led by violent, extremist leaders intent on radicalizing young adults into antiabortion activism and training them in harassment and intimidation schemes. Immediately after the boot camp, which targeted high school and college students ages 14-25, SAH held a “DC Mission” that congregated even more antiabortion extremists in the nation’s capital.

SAH is an extremist group founded in 1998 by Jeff White, a convicted felon, and Cheryl Conrad. The organization was founded after White was hit with an $880,000 fine for blockading clinics and stalking a physician, forcing him to turn over leadership of Operation Rescue West, another antiabortion extremist group, to Troy Newman.

Speakers from various extremist groups, like Operation Save America (OSA) and Progressive Anti-Abortion Uprising (PAAU), hailed from across the country to advocate militant “activism.” During the boot camp, speaker Maison Des Champs—also known as “Pro Life Spiderman”—posted to X, “As much as I would like to complain about being sent to jail and fundraise off my experiences, it’s really not that bad. Jail is just time out for adults. Nothing to be scared of.” 

Jason Storms, the national director of OSA, was also a speaker at this year’s boot camp. Storms is the son-in-law and protege of Matthew Trewhella, an antiabortion extremist who signed the defensive action statement—a 1993 proclamation that justifies the murder of abortion providers. 

Storms has mobilized extremist activists across the country. In 2021, he led a group of OSA activists to the Jan 6. demonstrations. Since then, Storms has trained militias across the U.S., intimidated patients outside of women’s reproductive health clinics, and advocated the death penalty for women who receive abortions. 

Supporters of protesters arrested on Jan 6, 2021, demonstrate one year later outside the U.S. Supreme Court on the second anniversary of insurrection of the U.S. Capitol. (Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images)

Aaron Jonathon (AJ) Hurley, charged with felony stalking of a physician, also spoke at the boot camp. Hurley is the director of activism for White Rose Resistance, an antiabortion extremist group, and former outreach director of SAH. In May 2022, Hurley was charged with one felony count of stalking, as well as multiple misdemeanor counts for vandalism and obstructing freedom of access to a clinic, after he and other SAH-affiliated extremists invaded Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center and intimidated a doctor who performs abortions. Hurley and other extremists went so far as to target the doctor’s home and neighborhood, putting signs up in the area calling her a “killer.”  

On June 21, the bootcamp-trained youth—along with other extremists—made their way to the Washington-Surgi Clinic, a reproductive care facility, and harassed Dr. Cesare Santangelo, following him with a camera from his car to the front door of the clinic, calling him a “murderer” and demanding that he “repent.” A user on Instagram advocated for a more violent approach, writing, “Anyone actually think the Founders of our country would have just stood with PROTEST SIGNS???”

This is not the first time the D.C. clinic has been targeted by antiabortion extremists. In October 2020, a group of antiabortion extremists, including Lauren Handy (SAH veteran and co-founder of PAAU), forced their way into the Washington Surgi-Clinic.

From Ms. magazine’s in-depth examination of the invasion

“About half a dozen anti-abortion extremists poured into the waiting room. One, a man in his mid-40s named Jay Smith, pushed the nurse, causing her to sprain her ankle. Two others—Bell and Paulette Harlow, both in their 70s—were wearing bike locks around their necks. They started moving waiting room chairs in front of the door leading to the clinic’s medical procedure area. Another carried in a large duffel bag. Jean Marshall, also in her mid-70s, took chains that were in the duffel and began using them to secure Bell, Harlow and John Hinshaw, in his 60s, together in front of the door to the medical area.”

Police officer in the doorway at Washington Surgi-Center during the clinic blockade on Oct. 22, 2020. (Courtesy of We Engage)

In 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted nine of the extremists on two counts: violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act and felony ‘conspiracy against [civil] rights.” In 2023, eight of the defendants were convicted on both accounts. Just last month, Lauren Handy was sentenced to nearly five years in prison for masterminding the invasion. 

SAH differs from other group in that it specializes in radicalizing young adults and training them with convicted felons, individuals standing trial for intimidation, and other violent extremists. 

To conclude this year’s boot camp, the “campers” led a counter-protest in which they intimidated pro-choice advocates with medically inaccurate imagery and anti-Roe chants. An Instagram post highlighted that one member of the counter-protest was just 11 years old. 

The young adults at this year’s boot camp were not trained to simply seek abortion bans at the state level. During the boot camp, SAH member Jocabed Torres Bernal was interviewed by NBC News to advocate for a complete and federal ban on abortion. SAH vehemently opposes any exceptions to abortion bans for rape, incest and the life of the mother.

As antiabortion extremists train youth in harassment tactics, it is more important than ever that the next generation stand up for women’s reproductive rights. 

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About and

Roxana Behdad is an editorial intern for Ms.. Originally from Los Angeles, she is a rising junior at Cornell University, majoring in political science and minoring in creative writing. Her specific interests include political and feminist theory.
Riya Khatod is an intern with the Feminist Majority Foundation. She is a rising sophomore at Duke University majoring in public policy and economics.