Amanda Robb’s piece from 2010 has resurfaced in the wake of last weekend’s abortion clinic attack in Wisconsin. She makes an important observation on the media narrative (or in this case the lack thereof) concerning the terrorism that lies at the center of the American anti-abortion movement, an observation that unfortunately goes as unheeded today as it did two years ago when she wrote it. Robb is a journalist, and the niece of Dr. Barnett Slepian, the abortion provider murdered in his home in 1998 by James Kopp. She struck up an ongoing dialogue with Scott Roeder, who murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his church in 2009:
I had explained my interest in him when I had first written to him six months earlier: I really need to understand how someone could be moved to murder to stop abortion.
The understanding Robb ultimately gained is this: the close, long-term and ongoing relationships between Scott Roeder and other anti-abortion extremists who advocate murder and violent attacks on abortion providers constitute a terrorist cell by any rational definition. Well, outside of the Orwellian definition of “terrorist” currently in vogue within our deranged political discourse: namely, a Muslim male who disagrees with the actions of the U.S. government. A direct consequence of this refusal to call terrorism terrorism is the “Lone Wolf” narrative that invariably emerges in the wake of anti-choice attacks on clinics and doctors. It is as false as it is dangerous. Robb notes:
As soon as Scott Roeder was named the sole suspect in the point-blank shooting death of Wichita, Kan., abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in the vestibule of the Reformation Lutheran Church Tiller attended, a predictable story began to be told. Following the lead of a recent Department of Homeland Security report characterizing right-wing terrorists as lone wolves, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, ABC, NBC and FOX News all ran stories calling Roeder a “lone wolf” gunman.
It is the oldest, possibly most dangerous abortion story out there.
It is also total bullshit. As Robb demonstrates unequivocally, “for loners, these guys have a lot of friends. A lot of the same ones, in fact.” You should read her whole article for all the documented details, but here’s a neat graphic that illustrates the anti-choice terrorist nexus in a nutshell:
Of course this level of detail has yet to emerge concerning Francis Grady, the suspect arrested in connection with the recent Planned Parenthood attack in Wisconsin. After all, it took Robb over six months of investigative journalism to thoroughly document the connections between the individuals discussed in her piece. But what we do see emerging is more of the same “Lone Wolf” narrative that treats cases such as Francis Grady as freak occurrences instead of the inevitable result of an explicitly violent conspiracy in service of an inherently violent ideology.*
It’s not just the Sober and Serious actors-pretending-to-be-journalists on cable news who fail to call it what it is. Here we have TPM painting Francis Grady as a “bumbling” dipshit, thereby implying that Grady’s alleged actions were somehow less serious than earlier reports citing a “chemical-based bomb” would suggest. But lets look at precisely what this man is accused of here: Mr. Grady smashed a window of a Planned Parenthood clinic with a hammer, poured gasoline inside, and then lit it with a lighter. The gasoline caught fire, which fortunately sputtered out after he drove away. But what if it had not? What if instead the clinic burned to the ground? Would a homemade bomb (or “IED” as it’s called when deployed by Muslims) that accomplished the same thing really be different in any meaningful way?
Ask yourself this: if the target were instead a New York synagogue, and Grady a Muslim named Al-Awlaki, would the same actions he’s accused of be deemed terrorism? Would the NYPD, CIA and FBI infiltrate every political group and mosque to which he ever belonged in a relentless effort to bring terrorism and/or conspiracy charges against as wide a collection of individuals as possible? Of course they would.
Why is this different?
Now it will not surprise loyal readers here to learn that we are very much in favor of mocking as bumbling dipshits any and all conservative @$$holes who make terrorist attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics, no matter how ineptly. That is not the problem with TPM’s coverage of the Wisconsin attack. It’s the characterization of Grady as a “bumbling ideologue driven by religious zeal,” and treating it as a matter of lesser concern than an inept Muslim arsonist would be. It’s the refusal to call him what he is: a terrorist.
I don’t mean to single out TPM — they are hardly alone. I wish to point out that conservative media (read: mainstream media) is not the only culprit here. The Lone Wolf narrative and the indifference to the seriousness of Grady’s alleged actions is virtually ubiquitous. For example, one of the early local news report in Wisconsin is headlined:
Explosive device found at Planned Parenthood
It begins this way:
GRAND CHUTE, WI (WTAQ) – Grand Chute police are investigating an explosive device that blew up at Planned Parenthood.
A device that blew up at a Planned Parenthood clinic was “found?” As Liss put it: “Found. Well, yes, I suppose one way of describing a bomb going off is to say that a bomb was ‘found.'” But I submit that only a Caucasian, American-born, Christian terrorist can expect to get this kind of treatment from news sources. It was merely arson, you see. Merely a women’s clinic. (Again.) Nothing to launch drone strikes over, people.
The sick, sadistic views of Francis Grady and Scott Roeder and James Kopp and Leslie Unruh and Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter and an endless army of conservative politicians are now mainstream. Amanda Marcotte enumerates the fine citizens here:
…the people who are on the radio screeching about how women who use contraception are “sluts”, who convene and sit on congressional panels about how contraception is the end of “religious liberty”, who pass laws restricting abortion while making speeches comparing women to farm animals, who melt down on Fox News at the very idea that family planning clinics continue to exist, who try to eliminate all funding for contraception on the state and federal level, and who run for President while talking about the evils of contraception or why we need to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood…
We have come to expect misogyny as a normal if regrettable part of our discourse, at least when it is coming from the right. And that is bad enough. But what I wish to point out is that the countervailing narrative is impotent. Insufficient. It’s the Orwellian euphemisms, the amused belittlement, the indifferent bewilderment coming from the center and the ostensible left that needs to be examined and addressed, pronto. Not just for what this unfortunate phenomenon says about the culture’s views of women generally —although to be sure that is a vital conversation to have — but for what it says about the normalization of terroristic violence generally, and the privilege of American Christians to engage in it without being widely regarded as the terrorists they are.
In a climate where misogynist and violent anti-choice rhetoric abounds, it is yawningly unremarkable that Francis Grady is openly proud of himself, just as Scott Roeder was — the d00d apparently couldn’t wait to confess, and tried to plead guilty at his first court appearance (the judge declined to enter the plea). As Amanda points out:
Are we surprised that he’s bragging about his crime instead of recoiling in shame? He probably thinks the Republican presidential candidates who were in the state campaigning when Grady set this bomb off are watching this on TV and approving of him.
Why wouldn’t he think that? It’s not like a significant portion of mainstream society is likening him to those dirty radical Islamist animals with their total disregard for life.
The mealy-mouthed unwillingness to take anti-choice terrorism seriously is a large part of the problem. It’s not called “terrorism”. Conservatives offer half-hearted denunciations, but then immediately turn around and continue to offer support for the narratives that create terrorism, such as claiming that nearly every woman in America is out of line for using her access points to health care—whether it’s private insurance or government programs to fill the gaps—to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Or claiming that the 1 in 3 American women who have abortions are murderers. As long as it’s socially acceptable for men to be angry about women’s bid for equality, and as long as that anger continues to be channeled into hatred for reproductive rights, some of the angry dudes are going to turn violent. Mild denunciations of crossing the line aren’t enough. Anyone who continues to support the narrative that forced child-bearing is an appropriate social control placed on women is responsible for this.
If we’re going to have a nonsensical War on Terror, then I say let’s fucking have it. I want those of every stripe who perform terrorist acts — and all who conspire with them and provide them with material support** — tried by a jury of their peers on terrorism charges, and if found guilty, sentenced accordingly.
And I want the goddamn media to call it what it is.
* The anti-choice position is inherently violent, as Liss expressed here:
If anyone else suggested that I should be forced to submit my body against my will to nine months of potential discomfort and pain, followed by an act that might include the skin and muscle between my vagina and anus being torn open, I don’t think we’d mince words about whether they were using violent rhetoric.
Substitute “skin and muscle between my testes and my anus being torn open” for “skin and muscle between my vagina and anus being torn open,” and we’d certainly not be mincing words. Would we?
- former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace
- former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (NATO) Wesley Clark
- President Obama’s former national security adviser James Jones
- former CIA chiefs James Woolsey, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden
- former commander of CENTCOM Gen. Anthony Zinni
- former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton
- former FBI director Louis Freeh (who curiously enough made no mention in his speech of the 2004 FBI report on MEK’s continuing terrorism plots)
- former Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James Conway
- former co-chair of the 9/11 Commission Lee Hamilton
- former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani
- former US attorney general Michael Mukasey
- former GWB White House chief of staff Andrew Card
- former US homeland security chief Tom Ridge
- former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell
- former Governor Howard Dean
- former secretary of Energy Bill Richardson
- the powerful Washington law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld
- Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA)
- former Pentagon adviser Richard Perle
Glenn Greenwald has more on the U.S. nexus with MEK here, wherein he concludes:
I know that, in light of recent American history, it’s easy to forget this, but U.S. government officials — whether current or former — are no more entitled to commit felonies and violate U.S. statutes than any other citizens are.
Well, not necessarily Christian terrorists. Mere arson. Lone Wolfs, the lot of ’em.