TACOMA, Wash. — From the picket line, from the spot where he stood with a sign protesting abortion, Curtis Beseda could see the pregnant women.
They would arrive and disappear into the Everett (Wash.) Feminist Women's Health Center. And then they would leave after their abortions.
"I saw women walking in and then walking out without their child," Beseda recalled. "It's as close as you can get in an abortion to understanding that a life has been taken. . . ."
So Curtis Anton Beseda set out to do something about it. He decided to destroy the clinic.
Flames of Protest
He set fire to it twice, each time damaging but not closing it. Finally, on a third successful nighttime attack last April 19, he kicked out a window, poured gas inside and touched off the conflagration that had thus far eluded him: The flames of protest finally shuttered the abortion clinic for good.
"The lives I could save (from abortion) the next day were precious," Beseda said. "There were lives that \o7 were\f7 saved."
With such thoughts and with such deeds, Beseda, 29, became one of the nation's first practitioners of what has now become a tidal surge of violence against abortion clinics around the country. From three arsons and bombings of clinics in 1982, the number of such attacks burst to 24 last year. With one more thus far in 1985, there have been 30 fires and explosions aimed at abortion clinics and related facilities across the country.
Violence has sometimes taken other forms. Shots from a high-powered rifle or machine gun were fired into two Florida clinics last April 28, for example.
The violence has brought calls for an investigation into the possibility of a national conspiracy against clinics and, last week, strong denunciations from President Reagan and Moral Majority leader Jerry Falwell.
But at least one of the clinic bombers predicts more violence until abortion is curbed.
"All the bombings that are taking place are to convey the message to Washington: 'Let our children live,' " Don Benny Anderson, 44, said last week in an interview at the federal prison near Oxford, Wis. Anderson is serving 42 years for a clinic bombing in suburban Washington, D.C., two more bombings in Florida and the kidnaping of an Illinois doctor who performed abortions.
He coined the "Army of God" description that has been used by others in claiming responsibility for clinic attacks.
"These are just warning blasts," Anderson added. "We are in the embryonic stages of civil war, holy war."
Barbara Radford, executive director of the National Abortion Federation, whose Washington, D.C., headquarters were bombed last July 4, said: "The anti-abortion community has become frustrated with their attempts to make abortion illegal through the democratic process, and the criminal activity has escalated. It's very sophisticated stuff, and I do not think it's reached its peak."
Although Radford praises efforts by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in probing the individual arsons and bombings, she has long called for a broader investigation by the FBI to determine any greater conspiracy to shut down clinics.
"I'm not saying there's a group going around the country," Radford said. "I'm saying it's worth looking into. We believe the number of incidents and the seriousness of incidents should be demanding of a broader investigation. We've seen two attacks on opposite ends of the country (Atlanta and San Diego) on the same day (last Sept. 13), and for (FBI Director William H.) Webster to say there's no coordinated conspiracy (and thus not a case for the FBI)--it's hard to believe that."
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms information officer Dot Koester said: "We have found no evidence of a national conspiracy. There may be some geographic connection--in Washington, (D.C.) we've been hit in Washington, Maryland and Virginia--but there's no national conspiracy. Some may be copycat (attacks). We are looking at conspiracy; it remains a possibility when it happens in clusters."
Most of the arsons and bombings have occurred in clusters:
--Six attacks occurred in the Houston area within a three-month period last year, including two on Sept. 7 and one on each of the next two days.
--The Washington, D.C., area has seen eight attacks, ranging from Anderson's June 6, 1982, assault in suburban Virginia to the nation's latest attack, the bombing of a Washington clinic on New Year's Day.
--And a small number of people have apparently been responsible for many of the arsons and bombings, judging by arrests. Beseda claims responsibility for all four Washington state incidents, and Anderson and two others were convicted of three attacks, including the nation's first ones in St. Petersburg and Clearwater, Fla., on May 29, 1982. Two other men have been charged with a June 25, 1984, bombing in Pensacola, Fla.; the same two, the wife of one and the girlfriend of the other have been charged with the three Christmas Day bombings in Pensacola.