Hate Speech Leads to Violence: In Wake of Abortion Doc Murder, Religious Leaders Skirt the Issue
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Jun 03, 2009 at 11:08:27 AM EST
While everyone on both sides of the abortion issue seems to condemn the murder of George Tiller, few admit the malignant effects of "baby killer" rhetoric

In the immediate aftermath of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, words came flowing forth from every conceivable direction. The media reported, longtime anti-abortion activists "condemned," but few apologized for years of hate speech directed at Tiller.

In the hours following the murder and the subsequent condemnations from Religious Right leaders, I remembered Jerry Falwell's notorious post-9/11 remarks, blaming feminists and the ACLU, among others -- and the uncomfortable flip-flopping that followed. It was clear that his comments represented what he was thinking. Yet it was also clear, as he tried to backtrack and apologize, that he realized he had monumentally goofed.

I was reminded of those wretched Falwell maneuverings on Monday evening while watching Frank Schaeffer -- the son of the late Francis Schaeffer, one of the founding fathers and most revered figures on the Christian Right - point out during his appearance on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show that the condemnations of Tiller's murder issued by leaders of the Christian Right seemed forced and empty.

'He reaped what he sowed'

The statements from so-called mainstream anti-abortion leaders basically covered the same ground: they condemned the murder, expressed compassion for Tiller's family, and hoped that the perpetrator would soon be captured and brought to justice.

It was left to Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, to pick up Falwell's rhetorical baton. At a news conference at the National Press Club on Monday, June 1, Terry plainly stated that Tiller "was a mass murderer and, horrifically, he reaped what he sowed."

Terry said that Tiller would be remembered as "one of the villains of history." "I grieve for Dr. Tiller because he left this life, perhaps without proper preparation to face God," Terry said. "The thought of him leaving this life with blood on his hands for having killed so many thousands of children and not having been prepared to meet his maker is a dreadful, terrifying thought."

Terry appeared to be verbalizing what others, more "respected" Christian Right leaders couldn't. Since Terry has been outside the mainstream for years, he had the license to say whatever he wanted; the more extremist his rhetoric, the more national media he would receive. For Dobson, Perkins, et al, they had the political realities to reckon with.

Sharing the blame

For Frank Schaeffer, the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up As One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Live to Take it All (or Almost All) of it Back, and who had for years been privy to the backroom conversations of Christian Right operatives, the condemnations were a sham. Schaeffer dramatically opened an op-ed piece in the June 2 Baltimore Sun by writing: "My late father and I share part of the blame for the murder of Dr. George Tiller ..."

He pointed out how his father had "compared America and its legalized abortion to Hitler's Germany and said that whatever tactics would have been morally justified in removing Hitler would be justified in trying to stop abortion." And Frank Schaeffer also noted, quoting from his own book:

"Angry speech has become the norm in American religion from both the right and the left. Words are spoken which, when taken seriously, lead directly to violence by the unhinged and/or the truly committed."

While Schaeffer stated that abortion "should be legal," he also believes "that it should be re-regulated according to fetal development." Nevertheless, he recognizes that "the same hate machine I was part of is still attacking all abortionists as `murderers.' And today, once again, the `pro-life' leaders are busy ducking their personal responsibility for people acting on their words.

"The people who stir up the fringe never take responsibility. But I'd like to say that I, and the people I worked with in the pro-life movement, all contributed to this killing by our foolish and incendiary words."


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