Waagner shares his thoughts about family, the law, his country, and God
The Derrick, 4/11/02

Special thanks to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted


Three years ago a Kennerdell man with an odd last name stole a Yukon from a weekend sale at Crivelli's and launched a cross-country robbery spree.

Authorities called him armed and dangerous. His wife called the newspaper asking why. Her husband, Clayton Lee Waagner, had a record of theft, but was never known to be violent. He was a good father, she said.

Months later after the 45-year-old computer programmer was captured and brought to trial in Illinois, stunning testimony laid the cause of their concern bare. Waagner had traveled the country with maps and guns on a mission from God to kill abortion providers.

He was depressed that he failed.

It was an extraordinary ending for a story that had begun with a local car theft by a federal parolee.

But as it turned out, it was only the beginning.

While awaiting sentencing in Illinois, Waagner walked through a locked prison door, slipped through a drain hole in the roof and disappeared into the cold February night.

And so began a second, more high profile campaign. Authorities say he roamed the country robbing banks, stealing cars and living it up in pricey hotels, while periodically issuing violent public threats that panicked and disrupted the abortion industry.

His uncanny ability to dodge highly trained federal manhunters earned him dubious celebrity that included repeat TV profiles on America's Most Wanted and pages of national press.

The nearly 10-month campaign culminated this fall with the mailing of hundreds of hoax anthrax threats at the height of a vulnerable nation's terror. Attorney General John Ashcroft responded in a nationally broadcast press conference, naming Waagner among the most dangerous fugitives in the country and warning that he would be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

Days later, the extraordinary gig was up. Waagner surrendered peacefully after a clerk spotted him in a Kinko's copy shop.

The government says Waagner is a robber and terrorist who cost them $1 million, traumatized bank tellers and put law-abiding abortion clinic workers in fear of their lives. Extremists on the fringe of the anti-abortion movement regard him as a folk hero. His family, meanwhile, says he could never kill anyone.

Regardless of what one may think of Clayton Lee Waagner, his actions are difficult to ignore.

When he left his family and rode out of the county three years ago, he launched a dangerous self-created national spectacle that by its end provocatively engaged the issues of abortion, domestic terrorism, faith, ethics and family.

His improbable one-man crime spree and crusade rattled and, likely changed, the abortion industry and captured the attention of the most powerful law enforcement officer in the world. For better or worse, he will likely help the government formulate new responses to domestic terrorism in this volatile era. And if he has his way, he plans to continue to shape the nation's approach to abortion through his upcoming court battles.

Did he do it for the cause or for the attention or for the thrill? Even the man who tracked him for nearly 10 months confesses he doesn't know. Maybe it was all of that, he says.

What was Clayton Lee Waagner thinking?

In stories to be published Friday and Saturday in The Derrick, in the first extended interview granted since his December capture, Waagner explains, sharing his thoughts about his family, the law, God and his country.

While acknowledging the wild contradictions inherent in his behavior, Waagner says he's at peace with what he's done, proud even. Calling on venerable historical and biblical precedents, he says, without a hint of self-consciousness, that he broke man's laws to uphold God's.