HBO's Soldiers in the Army of God is a well-known 2000 documentary on the most extreme brand of pro-life activists. Consisting largely of interviews with some of the least-balanced, most psychotic crusaders against women's choice, the film is a chilling look at the lengths some will go to push their agendas.
Produced during a time when doctors at family planning clinics had to routinely keep any eye out for bombs or snipers, Soldiers in the Army of God does an excellent job of showing how casual and mundane the face of violence can be. Subjects like Paul Hill, Neal Horsley and Bob Lokey look pretty much like any bland dullard you might meet in a Denny's or Waffle House. But the moment these fellas open their mouths they spew paranoia, delusion and hate. Hill serves as the perfect roadmap for how someone can lose their grip on reality and end up ruining many lives. A father and husband, Hill progressed from sign-holding picketer to angry, threatening presence to premeditated murderer as he shot and killed a doctor and his driver outside an abortion clinic. Hill's unrepentant demeanor (he's interviewed from death row and has since been executed) is as creepy as his blank expression and eloquent interviews. Hill, like Horsley, comes off as an intelligent man despite his destructive urges.
Lokey is almost too messed up to be believable. He starts off the film doting over an pre-adolescent girl in a very unwholesome way and continues to act creepy throughout. He even creeps out an anti-abortion preacher at a movement convention.
Horsley, who tries very hard to be funny and personable, is shown working on his now-defunct website The Nuremberg Files which published the names and home addresses (along with other personal information) of doctors who provided abortions as well as other employees of clinics. Horsley is a sneaky character whose sole intention was clearly to offer up this information to anyone with a rifle and an urge to kill. Of all the men profiled here he somehow comes off as the sleaziest. (It's no surprise then in one of the extras when he admits to a past that included having sex with animals.)
Another activist featured heavily is Jonathan O'Toole, 19 years old when the film was produced, and living at his hero Horsley's house for the summer. O'Toole talks about feeling ashamed that he hasn't done enough for the little babies and basically asks for permission to go on a killing spree. Like the others interviewed O'Toole has a plain-spoken calmness that is in conflict with the murderous words coming out of his mouth. He clearly hopes to become the next Paul Hill, a suicidal martyr.
The political landscape has changed in the six years since Soldiers in the Army of God first aired making the sort of violence that seemed to define the anti-abortion movement in the 90s unnecessary. Activists like Regina Dinwiddie (who looks like Kate Pierson from hell) with their verbal rhetoric make more sense today than borderline psychos like Bob Lokey (did I mention that he circumcised himself with a razor while locked-up for murder?) But the unhinged, hypocritical behavior of these killers and wannabe killers is disturbing regardless.
The full frame presentation is fine. The piece was shot on film and looks grainy, but not unwatchably so.
The Dolby 2.0 audio is fine. Sometimes voices get a little tough to make out in the outdoor locations but overall it's acceptable. There is also a Spanish 2.0 track.
The disc contains a good batch of extras. First up is a lengthy interview with O'Toole five years after the filming of the documentary. It's interesting to see the ways in which Jonathan, now an adult, has changed and the ways in which he's exactly the same. It's also unnerving to hear him lament the fact that 9/11 has removed terrorism as a tool for his movement.
Extended interviews with Hill, Horsley and Lokey are included. Hearing the slimy Horsley go on and on about his years as a drug dealer is particularly illuminating.
The disc also features an interview with Ann Glazier, the director of clinic security for a Planned Parenthood. The interview takes place amidst a huge protest outside the clinic on the anniversary of an attack (and the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing) and features one protestor interrupting Glazier repeatedly. She stays cool throughout.
Finally, there's an interesting article from Esquire magazine from 1999 by Daniel Voll that appears as a series of text screens. It focuses on some of the same men as the documentary and paints a vivid picture of their personalities.
Soldiers in the Army of God is dated to some extent as the debate over abortion has entered a new phase. But as a portrait of the dangerous underbelly of homegrown American terrorism it is chilling and current. The film itself doesn't take sides in any explicit way but if ever there was a batch of interview subjects who undermined their own stories through their behavior and personalities, its Hill, Lokey and Horsley, a trio of ill-adjusted schizophrenics. Whatever your take on abortion, to think that these nut jobs can use a violent platform to reach out to the masses is just not a pleasant thought.