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Mercenary for Justice

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But months later, once a plea seemed likely for him and Loretta, Dennis’s tone grew a little warmer. “It’s taken me all this time to stop being mad at you,” Dennis wrote. “But actually if I were you I would have done the same thing proberly [sic], so I really can’t be mad at you anymore.”

The strangest letter came in March 2003, just after Kopp was convicted, but before Dennis and Loretta knew their own fate: “Congratulations! You deserve that money—all of it … Don’t let them screw you out of your money. I would be more than happy to testify on your behalf.” It was the last letter Dennis sent. Joseph would like to think that Dennis was trying to be nice—that he really wants the best for him. But Rachel thinks he was just trying to get into Joseph’s head.

Abe Laufgas says that he believes Dennis has forgiven Joseph now—at least somewhat. “He knows how Joseph was and how Joseph is, and he figured that the Feds put pressure on him. And Joseph cracked. He cracks very easy.” When Dennis talks about Joseph now, Laufgas says, he calls him by that old nickname, the Trembler.

After all this time, Joseph still has trouble reconciling the Dennis who was his friend with the Dennis who bombed abortion clinics. I asked him several times why Dennis did what he did. “I don’t know,” he said. But he may have happened on an answer in Performing in Brooklyn, a screenplay Dennis wrote back in 1997 about his life. Before I leave, Joseph gives me a copy. The cinematic version of Dennis Malvasi (or “Danny” in the script) is a pro-life action hero—part Rambo, part Randall Terry. Trained in Vietnam to be a killing machine, Danny comes home to a world he doesn’t understand. He rips off some guys who are criminals anyway, and goes on the run from the police, all while performing onstage in plays. Danny’s life changes forever, though, when he discovers the remains of aborted fetuses in a Dumpster outside a women’s health clinic. He has a flashback to Vietnam, the sight of bullets tearing the womb of a pregnant villager, her baby spilling out onto the ground next to her corpse. Danny goes to confession for the first time in years, and the priest tells him he’d been blessed with a moment of grace: He’s been a soldier for the military and then a soldier of fortune. Now he’ll be a soldier of Christ. That’s when the bombings start.

In the screenplay, as in life, the cardinal comes forward to plead with our hero to surrender. But in Dennis’s script, the cardinal is a patsy, duped by law enforcement to lure Danny into the hands of a malevolent government. The movie of Dennis’s life concludes with the hero walking into the trap, but at least his conscience is clear. “I’ve always followed my heart,” Danny says at the end, on his way to prison. The cardinal is wrong. Danny—Dennis—is a martyr.


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