Antiabortion Violence: A Return to the Silence?
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Dec 26, 2005 at 08:43:20 PM EST
Antiabortion violence, a staple of American life for a generation, has been in steep decline in recent years. That's why it was so striking to read recently of an attempted firebombing of a clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana. An investigator quoted in the short news item called it potentially an act of domestic terrorism.
Wow. Potentially an act of domestic terrorism. But as far as I can tell, the incident went almost unnoticed around the United States. This is striking in part, because that is the way it once was in America. Crimes committed against abortion providers were treated differently than the same crimes committed against other institutions.  Sometimes they were ignored by law enforcement. They were often ignored or played down by the media. National patterns of violence were ignored, even denied. In the past decade or so, that has changed, thanks in large part to the Clinton administration, and later the Bush administration, taking antiabortion violence far more seriously than their predecessors.

But given this history, I have to wonder about the apparent lack of interst in the attempted firebombing in Shreveport. Is this the return of the silence?  

Firebomb thrown at abortion clinic

Shreveport fire investigators today asked the public for help in finding the people who threw a firebomb outside an abortion clinic.

The Dec. 12 incident did not hit the Hope Medical Group for Women clinic on Kings Highway.

Security camera videotape, released by investigators today, shows a car pull into the parking lot and a woman get out on the passenger side. She is seen throwing the device at the clinic and then fleeing.

No arrests have been made.

"This is not a crime to be taken lightly," Shreveport Fire Department spokesman Brian Crawford said. "It's an arson crime -- and because of the nature of this crime, someone could also be charged with domestic terrorism as well."

Investigators say they have a "substantial" amount of physical evidence that was left from the firebomb.

The National Abortion Federation notes two arsons at clinics this year; one in Florida and one in Washington state.  

In addition to shootings and murders, anthrax attacks, stalking, death threats bomb threats and more, abortion providers have been the targets of more than 200 bombings and arsons in the past 3 decades.

For its part, the antiabortion Army of God, which promotes and celebrates violence against abortion providers, links to the story -- as well as a detailed Wikipedia discussion of the Molotov cocktail.

Violence had been widespread for 25 years until after 9/11, the "domestic terrorism" that the Army of God used to brag about, became something to which society was no longer willing to turn a blind eye.  Federal law enforcement agencies have done an excellent job of investigating and even preventing acts of violence in recent years. In 2001, three men wanted for acts related to antiabortion violence were on the FBI's Most Wanted list:  James Kopp for the assassination of a doctor; Eric Rudolph for the bombing of two clinics and the death of a police officer and wounding of a nurse; and Clayton Waagner, for among other things, sending fake anthrax threats to over 700 clinics and abortion rights organizations in the wake of 9/11. They have all been captured and prosecuted.

But the lull in the violence, in the face of public opprobrium and police crack downs, does not change the long range views of the proponents of violence.  Indeed, as I wrote in Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, convicted clinic bomber and arsonist Michael Bray (among others) explicitly supports "the principle of revolution and the goal of establishing or preserving a Christian government... What are patriots to do? he asks.  "Revolution may well be justified in our time of legalized sodomy, and national apostasy ('in the name of separation of church and state)' and taxation to support child slaughter."  He does not believe that revolution is currently possible because "American Christians are too morally apathetic to carry out such an enterprise at this time."

While Bray and others may have sought to spark Christian theocratic revolution in their time, others, such as Christian Reconstructionist author Gary North (a theorist of theocratic revolution in the U.S.) sees a longer term effort in which any "mature" Christian ultimately must become "a revolutionary against Satan's kingdom;" and that the battle over abortion is really about "extending the revolution" and that "the abortion question" will never be settled "until Satan's kingdom is obliterated." North sees the confrontation deepening and expanding until the point of "armed revolution" and notes that revolution became necessary in 1776.  (See Eternal Hostility, page 149.)

In my view, there are two contexts of this possible act of domestic terrorism in Louisiana to keep in mind -- the quarter century of a more- or-less underground war of attrition against abortion providers; and a period of similar length of the development of an above-ground theocratic political movement that keeps it's distance from the underground revolutionary violence, even as it politically benefits.

But antiabortion violence has become a public relations inconvenience for the broad theocratic movement in its several parts -- which would prefer not to have terrorism associated with it's cause. It is also political inconvenience for the Bush administration, which has built so much of it's identity based on the fight against terrorism. Even as it has done a good job on the antiabortion violence front, it has downplayed it as much as possible. After all, militant opposition to abortion is integral to the the GOP electoral base these days. Where the media was on this, I don't know.

One can only imagine what would have happened if say, a seeming Islamic person had tossed a firebomb at say, an airliner. There has always been a deep double standard in how antiabortion violence is treated by society at all levels.

Sometimes, even abortion providers have played down such situations for reasons of their own.

I don't know why there is such a remarkable silence in this instance. But I do believe that as a society we cannot return to the silence in the face of violence and threats of violence against abortion providers.

why progressives have generally never made much of an issue of antiabortion violence.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Dec 26, 2005 at 09:11:21 PM EST

I'm not sure why progressives are silent.

It's not unusual for "conservatives" to be silent.  Sixty years ago they said little about "lynchings."  There has always been a lot of "tacit" acceptance of violence within "conservative" circles.

by Mainstream Baptist on Tue Dec 27, 2005 at 08:54:08 PM EST

The simple answer is sexism.  It's "just" about women and services for women.

Women suffer all types of violence, from rape to domestic violence to pornographic violence, with a care-less attitude by society.  

I feel the same way about the dismissal of reproductive rights as a vital and important issue within the Democratic party.  

They can get away with it because it's "just" a woman's issue.  In part, this has been a fissure in the progressive movement and mainstream reporting that the anti-abortion groups and religious right has exploited to the max.

by cyncooper on Sat Dec 31, 2005 at 12:37:33 PM EST

and I agree that sexism is a profound aspect of this. But I don't think its only that.

I have seen the great discomfort with a lot of aspects of this that a lot of people experience, that seems to me to extend beyond sexism. Even among some prochoice activists, there is a degreee of denial about some aspects of it, and a deep discomfort with in getting into the details in a way that would more seriously address the problem. It relates, I think, to wider issues of reluctance to understand the religious right more generally.

I think its interesting that law enforcement seems to be more on the ball about these matters than most other sectors of society at this point in time -- including progressives. I hope via Talk to Action, we can help to change that dynamic.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Jan 01, 2006 at 02:44:10 PM EST

... that there is a great deal of discomfort in the prochoice community, and an unwillingness to address violence?  What do you mean?

by cyncooper on Mon Jan 02, 2006 at 10:28:58 AM EST

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