Gay Hating, Abortion Clinic Bombings, Veiled Threats on "race mixing"
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed May 02, 2007 at 12:40:42 PM EST
When does public speech go too far ? Is there any connection between hate speech and acts of terrorism ? This post covers recent examples of public speech, from the US right and the Christian right, that some allege influence American culture and mass belief so as make acts of terrorism more likely. Empirical connections between public speech, from prominent pundits, politicians, and religious leaders, and acts carried out by random individuals, are impossible, or very close to it, to demonstrate. So, does that mean we should give those whose speech appears to approve of, or incite, violence against targeted societal groups a pass ? And, what role do large societal institutions play in this ? Do they have any responsibility in calling out and decrying hate speech ?  
[ note: Individual sections in this story are bolded, in black, so readers can quickly scroll to desired topics ]

Real terrorism, real victims

"The underbelly of the Christian right is as scary as anything that ever dwelled in a Tora Bora cave." - Bob Norman, the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, as cited by "moiv" in Brothers Under The Skin", about the violent, terrorist wing of the American antiabortion movement

moiv", an anonymous Talk To Action writer who covers reproductive rights, addresses a recent attempted bombing, against a Texas abortion clinic, in light of past bombings of abortion clinics, in Wilfully Blind:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketPhoto Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketMany professed shock after last week's attempted bombing of an Austin women's clinic. Others felt shocked by their shock, since the religious right's thinly disguised rhetoric of hatred has so permeated our public discourse as to have become the norm. But for some it is easier to pretend not to see what is before their faces, far easier to remain willfully blind.

In 1998, nurse Emily Lyons lost her left eye, was partially blinded in her right and sustained other horrific and disabling injuries when another bomb -- similarly packed with nails that flew as deadly shrapnel -- was detonated at a Birmingham clinic by Eric Rudolph.

"Many may find the graphic images of my trauma ... to be offensive. I hope so. Violence is ugly. You should be offended by the senseless damage caused by the attack. It isn't the photographs that are bad; it is the act of hate that created them."

Hers are powerful words. But are Emily's courage [pdf photo link] and Emily's words more powerful than the rhetoric of hate that made them necessary?

[Photos:, the Austin American-Statesman, Ashley Cook for the Longview News-Journal and Talk to Action]

Clearly, such acts are rightly labelled as : terrorism. But, such terrorism seems to have many supporters within the US, to little personal repercussion, observes Frederick Clarkson in A Top Leader of the Southern Baptist Convention Endorsed Domestic Terrorism. Shouldn't That Be News?:

There have been some big scandals in the church world in recent years. There is the ongoing Catholic priest pedophilia scandal. The crimes were first enabled and covered-up by high ranking church officials like Boston's Cardinal Law. Then there was Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals who was paying a male prostitute for anal sex -- while publicly denouncing homosexuality and campaigning against gay marriage.

And now there is the vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention who publicly endorsed the assasination of a doctor by a member of an underground terrorist organization who had been on the FBIs Ten Most Wanted List. The first two scandals created international news, but not the third. Since Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center broke the story, there has been no press coverage that I can find, except for Ethics Daily on Friday;  and only a handful of blog posts, notably Mainstream Baptist, Big Daddy Weave, Moiv and me.  This merits further discussion.

Ann Coulter can "understand" domestic terrorism

Now, when Ann Coulter stated that she could "understand" the assassination of doctors who perform abortions and likened such killing to "a procedure with a rifle", how was that not the advocacy of domestic terrorism ? The legal point, to make it perfectly blunt, is that abortions are currently legal, for the most part, but assassinations are categorically illegal. The wider point is that Coulter appeared to be egging on "extrajudicial" acts that properly should be called terrorist acts, and that raises the question ; what's the difference between Coulter's apparent endorsement, with a nudge and a wink, of vigilante killings and Osama Bin Laden's exhortations, via tapes and videos, to egg on Muslims to attack the US and Western interests ?

The attempted legal justifications for the killing of doctors who perform abortions that Coulter has advanced, notes Frederick Clarkson, is one that originated among the members of the violent antiabortion terrorist group the "Army Of God" and the rationale has been dismissed in a recent court ruling on Writes Clarkson:

Speaking at the recent Reclaiming America for Christ conference, (televangelist D. James Kennedy's annual political rally), Ann Coulter not only repeated her now infamous anti-gay slur to the Christian group, but she declared that she can "understand" the assassination of doctors who perform legal abortions.

In demagogic fashion, Coulter first presented the shocking view -- and then wink, wink -- said she didn't really mean it; but in doing so, still held fast to the argument that leaders of the underground Army of God have used for years to justify the murder of abortion providers -- which she calls "a procedure with a rifle." [ from Ann Coulter Says She Can "Understand" Domestic Terrorism

Don Larsen cries over alleged "satanic" immigrant plot

There are, obviously, gradations in possible societal responses to such hate speech, and if the targeting of laws to control speech such as Coulter's might possibly be interpreted as constricting or repressive that does not preclude an unofficial societal response ; some behaviors, and people who engage in them, should simply be shunned. Journalist, author, and "Orcinus" blog writer Dave Neiwert has written extensively on the connection between public hate speech and violent acts against targeted, vilified societal groups. In an April 30, 2007 post, on a recent incident involving Utah Republican Party county head  Don Larsen, Neiwert commented:

One of the exigencies of eliminationist rhetoric is that ineluctably, by its nature, it is woven out of whole cloth -- it is almost purely fantasy, though sometimes it is wrapped around tiny grains of "fact" that, on closer examination, are mostly perceptions rather than truths....

As we saw in Montana last week, the spread of vile, hateful rhetoric specifically intended to dehumanize liberals, illegal immigrants and Muslims is hardly relegated to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. That's just where it starts.

Don Larsen's alleged conspiracy was sweeping and pervasive, and should prompt observers to wonder, where do such ideas come from ? :

Utah County Republicans ended their convention on Saturday by debating Satan's influence on illegal immigrants....

Don Larsen, chairman of legislative District 65 for the Utah County Republican Party, had submitted a resolution warning that Satan's minions want to eliminate national borders and do away with sovereignty.

In a speech at the convention, Larsen told those gathered that illegal immigrants "hate American people" and "are determined to destroy this country, and there is nothing they won't do."

Illegal aliens are in control of the media, and working in tandem with Democrats, are trying to "destroy Christian America" and replace it with "a godless new world order -- and that is not extremism, that is fact," Larsen said.

At the end of his speech, Larsen began to cry, saying illegal immigrants were trying to bring about the destruction of the U.S. "by self invasion."

Becoming Evil: socializing ordinary people to commit mass violence

The fact that Larsen's outburst lends itself to parody shouldn't distract from the reality that Larsen was characterizing whole segments of the American population, as well as an entire demographic group that's disempowered and routinely victimized already, illegal immigrants in the US, as wholly evil, satanic, and this sort of demonization is the sort of hate speech that has been shown to facilitate political violence, as substantiated in James Waller's groundbreaking 2002 study "Becoming Evil: :

The 20th century, dubbed the "Age of Genocide" by some historians, saw more than 60 million people fall victim to state-sponsored terrorism, with ethnic cleansings and other horrific purges in countries such as Germany, Ukraine, Cambodia, East Timor, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia.

The litany of atrocities continues into the 21st century. To date, more than 2 million people have been killed in Sudan's decades-long civil war and an additional 4.5 million have been driven from their homes; and the September 11 terrorist attacks on American soil that claimed approximately 2,830 lives are a painful reminder of the destruction that can be waged by individuals motivated by ideologies or grievances against an existing state.

As the worldwide death toll rises, it is more critical than ever to understand the psychological roots of evil that can lead to mass murder. In his new book Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford University Press), social psychologist and Whitworth psychology professor James Waller draws from seven years of research to mount an original argument for understanding why political, social and religious groups wanting to commit mass murder are never hindered by a lack of willing executioners.

Philip Zimbardo, president of the American Psychological Association and professor of psychology at Stanford University, asserts that "government leaders and the public would be well served to learn some of the many valuable lessons effectively presented throughout James Waller's original perspective on the psychological processes involved in the transformation of ordinary people into perpetrators of evil deeds."

Written for both scholars and laypeople and drawing on eyewitness accounts from perpetrators, victims and bystanders, Waller's Becoming Evil refutes many of the standard explanations for antisocial behavior and presents four ingredients that lead ordinary people to commit acts of extraordinary evil. Waller contends that being aware of our own capacity for inhumane cruelty, and knowing how to cultivate the moral sensibilities that curb that capacity, are the best safeguards we can have against future genocide and mass killing.

"To offer a psychological explanation for the atrocities committed by perpetrators is not to forgive, justify or condone their behavior," Waller states in his preface. "Instead, the explanation simply allows us to understand the conditions under which many of us could be transformed into killing machines. When we understand the ordinariness of extraordinary evil, we will be less surprised by evil, less likely to be unwitting contributors to evil, and perhaps better equipped to forestall evil."

Anti-Gay hate speech and the Washington Times

John Gorenfeld, who covers, among other subjects, the Unification Church, has just helped uncover the story of a virulently anti-gay group operating out of an office at Washington Times newspaper, and that should come as no surprise given the fact that Unification Church head Sun Myung Moon has called gays "dung eating dogs" and  stated that all gays should be killed. Journalist Max Blumenthal recently wrote, in a Nation story, on allegations of an atmosphere at the Washington Times that has been  "profoundly demeaning and abusive to women and minorities" and quoted Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center on the role of the Washington newspaper that would quickly go belly up if not subsidized, to the tune of about 200 million dollars a year, by the Unification Church:

"The Times is a terrible little newspaper that unfortunately has vastly disproportionate influence on the right wing of the Republican Party," Potok said. "The vast majority of people who read it don't realize that this paper is in bed with bigots and white supremacists. The Times is a key part of the radical right's apparatus in the United States."

Tony Perkins touts death for "race-mixing" ?

One of the methods by which ordinary humans can be conditioned to carry out acts of mass violence, explains James Waller, is simple: acculturation, and conditioning. Mass violence becomes easier to perpetrate when it is directly against vilified, demonized, dehumanized groups within society. Hate speech, that vilifies societal groups, from random individuals certainly does damage, but when individuals, such as Ann Coulter, are given the ability to broadcast hate speech on a massive scale, the societal damage is proportionately greater and perhaps categorically different as well, because Coulter routinely speaks at events sponsored by large organizations with constituencies, arguably, in the millions: James Dobson's Focus On The Family, and Tony Perkins' Family Research Council, for example.

And, what if the heads of such large organizations themselves engage in the same sort of hate speech ? Digby, on Hullaballoo, shines a spotlight on a speech by Tony Perkins, at the "Reclaiming America For Christ" conference sponsored at D James Kennedy's

Digby underlines the importance of Perkins' words with the spare this is where it's time to pay attention:

[excerpt from story by Adelle Stan, for The American Prospect, entitled  At the `Reclaiming America For Christ' Conference, Appeals For Piety And Revival Were Sometimes Drowned Out By Harsh Talk]

Lest any of the assembled miss the point, Perkins offered up the story of Phineas, grandson of Moses' brother Aaron, from Numbers 25. Phineas was rewarded by God with an "everlasting priesthood" for killing an Israelite and his Midian lover because God had forbidden the mixing of the men of Israel with the women of that tribe.

The story is, essentially, the vindication of the criminalization of "miscegenation" -- a sentiment consistent with Perkins' past courting of such racist groups as the Ku Klux Klan and the Council of Conservative Citizens, America's largest white supremacist organization, according to journalist Max Blumenthal. (Perkins bought, on behalf of political client Senator Woody Jenkins, a phone-bank list from former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.)

Coulter's rhetoric was no less violent. In describing the murders of doctors and health care personnel who worked at abortion clinics, Coulter said the victims had been shot, "...or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure performed on them with a rifle."

Perkins use of the Scripture was only slightly less menacing than Coulter's flippant analogy.

"We read that Phineas arose and he took action...," Perkins said.

"Not only is prayer required...I warn you that if you begin to pray for our nation that, at some point in time, you're gonna be prayin' and you're gonna feel a tap on your shoulder and hear, `Son, daughter, I've heard your prayer; now I want you to do something about it.'"

Just in case his message should be misconstrued, however, Perkins offered this caveat: "Now, let me be clear, in case the media's here," he said, "I'm not advocating you go home and get a pitchfork out of your storage shed and run into your neighbor's house." Phineas, the Bible tells us, used a javelin.

Mainstreaming Hate : D'Souza Thinks Al Qaeda has some good ideas

When right-wing author Dinesh D'Souza, on Stephen Colbert's "The Colbert Report", blamed America culture, alleged liberal cultural decadence in particular, for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, DC, and  then proceeded to tell Colbert that Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda supporters had some "good ideas" ( prompting Colbert to quip "so, what other cultural editing notes should we take from the terrorists ?" ), was D'Souza's speech in itself the advocacy of terrorism ? Maybe, maybe not.

But, its worth considering that there were assumptions packed into D'Souza's argument that can be found across a wide spectrum of thought and belief on the American right and especially the religious right. It's not clear if D'Souza is merely ignorant or simply too lazy to do the necessary research, or if he's intentionally misrepresenting the facts, but if there's any objective measure of "cultural decadence", that would presumably have to be in terms of divorce rates, teen pregnancy rates, STD rates, murder and violent crime rates, and so on, and by D'Souza's apparent reasoning American cities across the nation, almost every one, should be flattened and the American deep South napalmed into a scorched earth parking lot.

The very fact, though, that D'Souza appeared to be advocating, on national TV,  for massive unprovoked violence against his fellow Americans, or was at least sympathizing with a movement, Al Qaeda, that has carried out large scale terrorist attacks killing thousands of innocent civilians, should really stop people in their tracks:

After the initial hullaballoo over that D'Souza appearance on the Colbert Report died down, D'Souza carries on to no apparent career repercussions whatsoever. In fact, D'Souza has authored an entire book on the premise that liberals are responsible for 9-11 and this raises the question : how far has the Overton Window of hate speech, in America, been shoved over the past several decades ?

For one possible route towards greater accountability on public speech, see The Spotlight Project


Your post raises two big questions at least in my mind. First of all, what is the definition of hate speech? My whole problem with the current definition is that it can be used to silence legitimate dissent as well. Let me make it plain that I really don't care for the likes of Coulter, D'Souza, Dobbs or any of the rest of them. However, where do you draw the line? More importantly how do you draw the line?
Secondly, where is the Progressive's answer to these people? I get the distinct impression that many of my colleagues think that they're somehow above the whole fray. Well one thing I learned from my days as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against The War is that sometimes you've got to get out there and get right back in their faces. Fight fire with fire as it were.
Thanks again for some excellent ammunition.

by Frank Frey on Wed May 02, 2007 at 03:26:59 PM EST

I gather that many anti-abortion terrorists (Army of God types) use the Phineas verses to glorify their violence.

by NancyP on Thu May 03, 2007 at 07:54:52 PM EST

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