Political violence in the United States, of course, is hardly a novelty.
The deranged gunman John Hinckley, JR., shot and wounded President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Anti-government fanatic Timothy McVeigh murdered scores of Americans when he bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995. Matthew Dallek, The Daily Beast
Well, see the problem with this is that John Hinckley Jr’s attack on Ronald Reagan had less to do with politics than with celebrity. He was a nutjob motivated, not by political conviction, but by the delusion that shooting Ronald Reagan would impress actress Jodie Foster. (He’d stalked President Jimmy Carter for the same reason.) There’s little evidence that Hinckley’s drive to shoot Ronald Reagan was fueled by opposition to Reagan’s politics.
Tim McVeigh on the other hand, was motivated by politics. Insane politics, perhaps, but still politics.
This false equivalency is just one part of what makes Matthew Dallek’s piece in The Daily Beast a classic example of a dozey moderate looking over history with his eyes resolutely unfocused. Like most people who promote the “all things being equal” myth about leftist and right wing political violence in this country, Dallek ignores an important difference, one that has historically made right wing violence more tolerated and, as a result, more lethal in this country. Members of the radical left could not count, as members of the radical right could (like the Klan in the American south), on covert sympathizers within law enforcement and the courts.
But the most glaring omission in the piece – and others like it -- is that we actually have today, in the United States, a working illustration of the dangers posed by right wing violence and the extent to which it can become normalized.
Moderates who dismiss the dangers of right wing violence often do so by hyperbolizing concerns about it into concerns about a massive right-wing government takeover. To read many of their arguments, those of us who criticize Fox News and take seriously the dangers posed by the rhetoric of Glenn Beck and others like him, are envisioning armies of American Brown Shirts marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, assassinating the president, and taking control of the government.
No, I don’t consider that likely. What primarily worries me and others who have followed right wing violence over the years is a resurgence of what we saw in the ‘90s, the firebombings and murders that peaked with Tim McVeigh’s attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma city.
But I also worry that the dismissive attitude about right wing violence towards liberals and perceived liberals could result in this violence becoming business as usual -- as anti-abortion violence has become business as usual.
Since 1993, nine people have been murdered in the United States simply because they worked in abortion clinics. Nine people have been injured, including a woman who was widowed in the same attack, and a nurse who was maimed and lost an eye. There have been 17 attempted murders. Prochoice America reported, in a January 1, 2010 report:
6,100 reported acts of violence against abortion providers since 1977, including bombings, arsons, death threats, kidnappings, and assaults, as well as more than 156,000 reported acts of disruption, including bomb threats and harassing calls.
That same report details the level of security that has become business as usual in clinics that provide abortions:
Clinics are spending thousands of dollars on bulletproof glass, armed guards, security cameras, metal detectors, and other security measures. Doctors are wearing bulletproof vests and arming themselves with handguns and other weapons. Some have even purchased armored vehicles.
Clinic workers have been instructed by federal marshals to vary their routes to work, to drive to a safe haven if followed, and to call police if they receive a suspicious package, as it could contain a bomb.
Rochester, New York abortion provider Dr. Morris Wortman carried a gun and wore a bulletproof vest to work immediately after the deadly shooting of Dr. Barnett Slepian. His clinic also has thick bulletproof glass and a video surveillance system. In 2002, Dr. Wortman had a protective concrete wall built along the side of the clinic adjacent to a day-care facility. Explaining the barrier’s construction, Dr. Wortman stated, “There are kids over there every day . . . I had the berm [wall] put up for their protection. If we ever get bombed, the berm would hopefully deflect any debris from hitting the day care center.
Boston, Massachusetts abortion provider Dr. Maureen Paul no longer sits in the third-floor atrium she built for herself as a dream spot. In light of Dr. Slepian’s murder in his home, she feels too vulnerable there, which, according to Paul, “really makes me angry because, wow, this is the space I created for me. I don’t get to be home very often and so it really, really disturbs me that I have to think about getting shot in a place I love.
Like many other clinic directors, Dr. Warren Hern, an abortion provider and director of a Boulder, Colorado reproductive-health center, installed bulletproof glass in his office, hired private armed security guards, and wears a bulletproof vest at some of his public appearances. Stated Dr. Hern, “I walk out of my office and the first thing I do is look at the parking garage that the hospital built two doors away and see if there is a sniper on the roof. I basically expect to be shot any day. . . . It’s a war zone. . . . It’s very frightening and it ruins your life.”
The result, as that same report details, has been to severely restrict access to abortion services. What the far right has learned from murdering doctors and blowing up clinics is that terrorism works. You don’t even have to kill scores of doctors or injure hundreds of clinic workers. Just that “few” -- just those nine -- do the trick nicely.
And the reaction of many Americans? A shrug. A yawn. Oh well, that’s just the way things are, seems to be the attitude.
It didn’t have to be.
I can guarantee you that the lesson learned from the normalization of raw intimidation in this case has not been lost on the far right. We’re seeing now a grassroots drive to silence not only politicians, but liberals in general. In addition to vandalism and personal threats aimed at public figures, a doctor has boasted about turning away Obama supporters. An employer has boasted about firing Obama supporting employees. And incredibly enough, at least one Republican politician, Louisiana Representative John Fleming, has put his own stamp of approval on this idiocy, saying of that physician turning away Obama voters. “I applaud what he said and did.”
The only caveat he sees fit to add in the video embedded below is that the media might (Oh so unfairly!) make a doctor turning away sick people because he dislikes their politics sound like a bad thing.
It’s possible that Representative Fleming actually thought he was doing his bit to ratchet down Tea Party rhetoric, but his approach amounts to praising with faint damns – the same approach from the right that helped to normalize anti-abortion violence. Threats and harassment against either politicians or private citizens because of their politics cannot be treated as if it were acceptable or "understandable." It cannot be allowed to become normal.
We must not let this society get to the point where merely voicing a liberal opinion is likely to put someone a higher risk for harassment – even possibly “legal” harassment, like being fired or turned away from medical care.