Summary: Left-wing rioters at Berkeley, Portland, and Evergreen College remind us about the Left’s long history of political violence. But during the past several decades the Right has been more violent. Here is a brief recap about one front of the Right’s war against America. Expect more political violence as our politics become more polarized, with increasingly extreme claims by both sides (e.g., each accuses the others of being traitorous Nazis) –unless we act, showing that this is not acceptable in America.
Update: My prediction of escalating political violence immediately proved correct: “GOP baseball shooting” in today’s WaPo.
“A gunman opened fire Wednesday morning on a baseball practice at a park in Alexandria involving Republican members of Congress, injuring several people including at least one lawmaker, Steve Scalise …The wounded also included at least one Capitol police officer and the suspected shooter …Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said two of his officers engaged in ‘gunfire and return fire.’”
Excerpt from “The Abortion Battlefield“
By Marcia Angell (M.D. and Professor of Social Medicine at Harvard).
From The New York Review of Books, 22 June 2017 issue.
- Women against Abortion: Inside the Largest Moral Reform Movement of the Twentieth Century by Karissa Haugeberg (asst prof of history, Tulane).
- About Abortion: Terminating Pregnancy in Twenty-First-Century America by Carol Sanger (prof of law, Columbia).
…In 1986 an evangelical Protestant minister, Randall Terry, started an organization called Operation Rescue, which advocated stopping abortions by nearly any means possible, including firebombing clinics and harassing and threatening clinic doctors and staff and their families. There were more than 60,000 arrests at Operation Rescue actions, according to Haugeberg, and the organization went bankrupt within a few years because of the mounting number of lawsuits.
But the turn toward violence continued. There were “Wanted” leaflets posted for Dr. David Gunn, for example, describing him as a “circuit riding abortionist,” and giving his address, car make, and license number, other personal details, and the address of his clinic — where he “kills children.” Gunn was murdered in 1993 by an antiabortion activist named Michael Griffin. One of Griffin’s apologists said, “Defending Michael Griffin’s action came naturally to me. Babies were not murdered on the day David Gunn was shot and a serial killer would never kill again.”
One problem was the lax attitude toward law enforcement at abortion clinics. Firebombing and arson were treated as isolated incidents, and the perpetrators were lightly punished, sometimes again and again.
One repeat offender was Shelley Shannon, who was eventually sentenced to 11 years in prison for the attempted first-degree murder of Dr. George Tiller, an abortion provider, but in the 5 years before that, according to Haugeberg, she had been “arrested nearly 50 times and charged with a crime 35 times, usually trespassing. When she was found guilty, she was typically sentenced to perform community service or serve up to 30 days in jail and to pay nominal fines.”
The murder of Dr. Gunn prompted Congress to pass the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994. President Clinton, the first president to support abortion rights unambivalently, directed his cabinet to investigate and prosecute activists who interfered with the provision of abortion services. His attorney general, Janet Reno, authorized the FBI to investigate whether Shannon had assistance when she firebombed clinics, and directed federal marshals to protect endangered clinics after two more abortion providers were murdered in 1994.
Haugeberg devotes most of a chapter in her book to Shannon — a sobering account of how an unexceptional young woman became an increasingly violent fanatic. Her motivation, as she said repeatedly, was to save the lives of “unborn children.” In her trial for attempted murder, she explained it this way:
“I believe there are occasions when a person becomes so evil and perhaps to stop the crimes they’re causing or to stop them from murdering all kinds of other people, such as in the case of Hitler…it may take something like their death to stop what they’re doing.”
But there was also a grisly aspect to her. Haugeberg writes:
“Shannon and her comrades encouraged pro-lifers to exact physical pain and suffering on abortion providers ‘by removing their hands, or at least their thumbs below the second digit.’”
Shannon, still in prison and a heroine to the extreme wing of the pro-life movement, was intensely devoted to her network of fellow zealots, which seems to have been dominated by men.
When it became more difficult to confront doctors at their clinics because of better protection, antiabortion extremists found them at their homes and churches. After Shannon’s attempt on his life, George Tiller was later murdered in his church by a friend of Shannon’s. Another doctor, Barnett Slepian, wrote about the intimidation he experienced…
“The members of the local non-violent pro-life community may continue to picket my home wearing large “Slepian Kills Children” buttons, which they did on July 25. They may also display the six-foot banner…. They may continue to scream that I am a murderer and a killer when I enter the clinics at which they “peacefully” exercise their First Amendment Right of freedom of speech…. But please don’t feign surprise, dismay and certainly not innocence when a more volatile and less restrained member of the group decides to react to their inflammatory rhetoric by shooting an abortion provider. They all share the blame.”
Four years later, Slepian was murdered at his home. The total count between 1978 and 2015, writes Haugeberg, was 11 murders (nine of them physicians), 26 attempted murders, 185 arsons, 42 bombings, and 1,534 vandalizations of clinics. …
About the author
Marcia Angell is an M.D. and Professor of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the former Editor in Chief of The New England Journal of Medicine. See her bio and her articles at the NYRB.
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For More Information
See Media Matters collection of news reports about right-wing violence. To go even further back in time, remember the 1984 assassination of liberal Alan Berg (attorney and talk radio show host) in Denver — by members of the white nationalist group The Order. See the Denver Post’s memorial.
Another example of a liberal accurately describing rising right-wing violence but amnesiac about left-wing violence: “Alt-right hopes to organize street-fighting goon squad: Is it more than macho posturing?” by Amanda Marcotte at Salon — “Far-right fanboys are trying to organize street gangs, and the most effective way to fight back may be mockery.”
If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see these posts about the the far-right, about political violence, about reforming America – steps to a new politics, and especially these…
- Violence, the inevitable consequence of political extremism.
- What are the odds of violence from the Right in America?
- The Oath Keepers want to give America its own Freikorps!
- Fear the rise of political violence in America. We can still stop it.
Here are the books
Also see Opposition and Intimidation: The Abortion Wars and Strategies of Political Harassment by Alesha Doan (associate prof of political science, U of Kansas).