Bombs for Babies

Stephen Jordi planned to blow up abortion clinics. Does that make him a terrorist?

"They've also mentioned you guys, trying to get you in trouble. 'I've been associating with known terrorists,'" Jordi said, laughing.

Jordi expected prison. "They're gonna be changing my diapers in jail, I promise you that," he had told Welch. But Jordi couldn't have realized that he'd be behind bars after being lured by a professional snitch, never having bombed the first abortion clinic. That's because it's still unclear whether Jordi intended to take action. In many ways, despite the fact that Jordi is an unlikable person, his case illustrates the federal government's post-9/11 aggressiveness.

S. Romero
Stephen Jordi said he had a plan to firebomb abortion clinics.
Stephen Jordi said he had a plan to firebomb abortion clinics.

On November 25, prosecutors charged Jordi with three felonies. He faced up to 50 years prison.

Though Jordi undoubtedly could have mounted a solid entrapment defense, his attorney, Anne Lyons, would have had difficulty persuading jurors to separate intellect from emotion. Building sympathy for Jordi would have been nearly impossible. The government could have presented hour after hour of tape-recorded conversations in which Jordi expressed hatred of everyone from abortionists to gays to Catholics. Additionally, following Jordi's indictment, the federal government had threatened to charge his wife with conspiracy.

As a result, Jordi pleaded to just one of the three charges, attempted arson, in February. Prosecutors dropped the other counts and agreed not to charge Charlotte. Federal sentencing guidelines stipulated up to 20 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of five years. "Taking the plea seemed the safest thing for Jordi and his family," a lawyer close to the case says.

But in May, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Schlesinger raised the stakes, asking a federal judge to forsake guidelines and sentence Jordi as a terrorist, which is allowed for under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) and the USA Patriot Act. Schlesinger requested that Jordi receive ten years in prison.

Buying gasoline and propane isn't illegal unless purchased to make a bomb. Jordi never made that bomb. He only talked about it.

"This is the first time I've heard of this... being used against a person who is clearly not a terrorist," says Jennifer Van Bergen, a legal scholar who is a board member of Broward's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. "This was one of the concerns that people like myself had when these laws passed."

The dilemma with federal antiterrorism laws, says Van Bergen, is that they provide a vague definition of terrorism. Painting an intimidating message on the side of an automobile or self-inflicted violence in public could be acts of terror under current laws.

"Criminal laws are meant to stop criminal behavior," Van Bergen says. "Now, they're trying to define an abstract concept. It's illegal to be a terrorist. But what is a terrorist? This is where a lot of problems are beginning to arise. What's happening with AEDPA and with the Patriot Act is what happened with RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act). That law was originally supposed to be used against the Mafia. Now, it's being used against white-collar criminals."

On July 8, U.S. District Judge James Cohn ruled against Schlesinger, finding that the antiterrorism provisions require Jordi's crime to "transcend national boundaries." He sentenced the Coconut Creek man to five years in prison. But the issue is far from over. Jordi likely won't be the last person to fall victim to unclear laws written with al Qaeda in mind.

"We will see cases like this in the future," Schlesinger said outside the courtroom. "Stephen Jordi won't be the last."

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