There’s a must-read piece in Esquire about Dr. Warren Hern, the last doctor in the United States to specialize in late-term abortions. It’s an interesting, nuanced piece, and I would recommend reading the whole thing — it neither lionizes nor demonizes Dr. Hern, and instead casts him as a complex and good-hearted human being. The article is written in the shadow of Dr. Tiller’s murder, and the fear that Warren Hern lives with is a major theme in the piece. (To make the formatting work, I’ve bolded where the original article italicizes).
In the kitchen of the Boulder Abortion Clinic, the abortionist bolts down two microwave tamales. He talks fast and doesn’t smile. It is my view that we are dealing with a fascist movement. It’s a terrorist, violent terrorist movement, and they have a fascist ideology…
He goes on like that for some time. Long before the first doctor got shot back in 1993, he was warning that it would happen. He was getting hate mail and death threats way back in 1970, just for working in family planning. They started up again in 1973, two weeks after he helped start the first nonprofit abortion clinic in Boulder. I started sleeping with a rifle by my bed. I expected to get shot. In 1985, someone threw a brick through his window during a protest by the quote unquote Pro-Life Action League. He put up a sign that said THIS WINDOW WAS BROKEN BY THOSE WHO HATE FREEDOM. In 1988, somebody fired five bullets through his window. In 1995, the American Coalition of quote unquote Life Activists put out a hit list with his name (and Tiller’s name) on it. The feds gave them protection for about six months, then left them on their own.
People don’t get it, he says. After eight murders, seventeen attempted murders, 406 death threats, 179 assaults, and four kidnappings, people are still in denial. They say, Well, this was just some wingnut guy who just decided to go blow up somebody. Wrong. This was a cold-blooded, brutal, political assassination that is the logical consequence of thirty-five years of hate speech and incitement to violence by people from the highest levels of American society, including but in no way limited to George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan, Jesse Helms, Bill O’Reilly, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson. Reagan may not have been a fascist, but he was a tool of the fascists. George W. Bush was most certainly a tool of the fascists. They use this issue to get power. They seem civilized but underneath you have this seething mass of angry, rabid anger and hatred of freedom that is really frightening, and they support people like the guy who shot George — they’re all pretending to be upset, issuing statements about how much they deplore violence, but it’s just bullshit. This is exactly what they wanted to happen.
He goes on about Bill O’Reilly for a while. Over the course of twenty-nine separate shows, O’Reilly accused “Tiller the Baby Killer” of performing a late abortion for any reason at all, even so a girl could attend a rock concert — a charge that is blatantly untrue. O’Reilly is a disgrace to American society, he says.
On Rachel Maddow’s show last night, she talked about “wave of angry mobs” that are attacking healthcare-related town hall meetings. It’s worth a watch. Congressmen have been threatened. They’ve been lynched in effigy. Republican leaders have joked about lynching Democrats. Paul Krugman has a column today that details some of the same behaviors. But one thing that Maddow points out is that the rhetoric used even by supposedly “mainstream” groups is intented to incite violence, even as they claim to abhor it. Nazi comparisons are the easy example — I think it’s one thing to say that someone’s views or beliefs are so extreme that they are reminiscent of popular views in Nazi Germany, or even to point out the similiarities between certain regressive, frighteningly controlling policies and the polices of fascist states. But accusations of Nazism, or being just like Hitler, evokes a particular response. It crosses a line to start arguing that a Democratic leader is basically a Nazi, or to say that healthcare is a “Hitler-like policy being heralded like a Hitler-like logo” and “Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out, just like Hitler did” (those are Rush Limbaugh quotes, for the record; apparently Hitler was extremely concerned with universal health care). As Maddow says, “He’s just like Hitler. And you know what that means he deserves, right?”
It’s pretty clear that rhetoric and words do have consequences. Of course I’m not arguing that people like Limbaugh, O’Reilly, et al shouldn’t have the right to say incredibly ugly and sometimes incendiary things; I don’t want them locked up or barred from their hate speech. But I do want a conversation about what those kinds of words lead to, and what responsibility — not necessarily legal responsibility, but ethical and moral responsibility — people like Limbuagh and O’Reilly have when they incite their listeners and viewers to take these kinds of accusations to the logical conclusion.
The tie-in with the anti-choice movement is pretty obvious — that’s the home of ugly, violence-abetting rhetoric. While the anti-healthcare movement has rested its vitriol on accusations of Socialism and even Nazism, the anti-choice movement has literally said that abortion providers, pro-choicers and pro-choice politicians are killing babies. Committing genocide. Murdering people. Slaughtering innocents. And no one is stopping them. Then they hand their followers the names and contact information of these supposed mass murders.
If you really truly believed that someone down the street from you was slaughtering thousands of children ever year, what would you do? Just look the other way?
The “abortion is murder” rhetoric is used specifically because it incites disgust and anger. The accusations of genocide and mass slaughter are used specifically because they upset people to such a degree that it seems someone reasonable to try and stop the killings, by any means necessary.
And, make no mistake, they are backed by the most supposedly “maintream” pro-life groups and their affiliates, including the Republican Party. Bill O’Reilly, for example, was just given the “Media Courage Award” by the right-wing Family Research Council, specifically for his coverage of George Tiller — in dozens of segments where he made up lies about “Tiller the Baby Killer.” O’Reilly will be honored at an event that features some of the biggest names in the Republican party:
On the evening of September 18, FRC Action will recognize Bill at the Values Voter Summit with the first-ever Media Courage Award. Bill is scheduled to speak after the tribute. He joins a jam-packed line-up, which now includes Govs. Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.), Rick Perry (R-Texas), Joel Rosenberg, Stephen Baldwin, and many of Capitol Hill’s brightest. The list of invited speakers includes: former Gov. Sarah Palin, Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Sean Hannity, Ben Stein, and others.
But yeah, sure, the GOP and “pro-life” groups totally oppose violence visited upon abortion providers.
In reality, abortion providers perform often thankless medical work every day. The profile of Dr. Hern emphasizes that much.
- Violence-Abetting Anti-Choice Fanatics: Now in Congress by Jill June 19, 2009
- Why Dr. LeRoy Carhart Won’t Stop Doing Abortions by Cara August 19, 2009
- Dr. Tiller’s Clinic Will Remain Closed by Cara June 9, 2009
- Anti-Choice Dems Receive Death Threats From Pro-Lifers by Jill March 24, 2010
- Come to think of it, she was pretty strict about the glue by Linnaeus December 19, 2007