Domestic Terrorism That Works
I dashed off a short post about George Tiller's murder yesterday, but it's too important to just shake your head about and move on. As one of the only other doctors who performs the kind of abortions that Tiller provided said yesterday, Tiller's murder was an act of intimidation, meant not only for him but the entire medical community.
“I’m profoundly sad and I’m furious and I think the American people need to understand that we have a fascist movement in this country,” Dr. Warren Hern told The Colorado Independent on Sunday. “We don’t have to invade Iraq to find terrorists. They’re right here killing abortion doctors.”
“Every doctor that does abortions has been under an assassination threat for decades,” Hern said. “The anti-abortion movement message is, ‘Do what we tell you to do or we will kill you,’ and they do. This is a fascist movement.”
Hern laid blame for Tiller’s death at the feet of the anti-abortion movement’s encouragement of violence against abortion providers and the Republican Party’s “exploitation” of the extremist rhetoric.
“Dr. Tiller is dead by an anti-abortion assassin, and this is the absolutely inevitable consequence of 35 years of anti-abortion fanatic rhetoric and intimidation and assassination violence and exploitation by the Republican Party of this movement,” Hern told the Independent.
You can see simply from the sewage from the right wing in reaction to the murder that this killing will not be some sort of wake-up call for an extremist movement. In fact, what is more likely to happen is that the reactionaries recognize the success of their efforts. A substantial portion of the doctors willing to perform legal medical services for women died yesterday, and who, given the circumstance, will rise to take his place? Deciding to work at a women's health clinic means deciding to work at the most targeted sites for terrorism in America, and I cannot blame anyone for preferring a different line of work. Over the past ten years or so, access to abortion has plummeted, both through this kind of intimidation and chipping away by right-wing state and local governments. A legal right is not necessarily legal if you cannot find it.
Tiller's death is a wake-up call to the fact that our existing laws and regulatory bodies to protect against clinic violence aren't working as well as they should. As written, FACE (Freedom to Access at Clinic Entrances) provides a lot of protection for reproductive health providers. But we need an active task force -- or some other means of accountability -- to make sure the law is fully enforced. This is something Obama's Justice Department could commit to doing tomorrow, sending a strong signal that this type of domestic terrorism is not acceptable.
It's apparent that we need someone at the federal level who is paying attention. After all, Tiller's assassin was not acting in vacuum. Even if no national anti-choice group directly ordered him to fire that gun, he is a product of a culture that thrives on systematically threatening reproductive health care providers and women who seek abortions. Militant anti-choice groups like Operation Rescue -- which has endorsed intimidation tactics in the past -- released statements yesterday condemning Tiller's assassination.
But after years of sending the message to its avid base that Tiller was a sub-human monster, a press release expressing dismay at the killing does little good. On the sidebar of the Operation Rescue blog, near where the press release appeared, was a small image featuring Dr. Tiller's face, some very sinister-looking flames, and the words "America's Doctor of Death," linking to a detailed dossier about all of Tiller's offenses. Other groups keep databases of reproductive health providers' addresses and phone numbers, all but daring their members to conduct harassment campaigns.
Letting FACE go unenforced is not just bad for clinic staff. This pattern of intimidation can affect the quality of care women receive.
For his part, Attorney General Eric Holder has dispatched US Marshals to protect certain individuals and clinics. But the violence that has raged for over thirty years, and the movement of hate that fanned the flames in so-called "respectable" outlets, is sure to continue. Women don't have the same access to treatment that men do, simply put. And that's a problem for all of us.
...check out the profile of the suspect in custody in this case. There are hundreds, if not thousands of people willing to do this work.
...Greg Sargent makes the excellent point that the Department of Homeland Security's report on "right-wing extremism" looks pretty prescient right now.