Monday, June 01, 2009

Christian terrorism strikes again

Paul Jennings Hill, Christian terrorist martyr (executed in 2003 for murder in the killings of an abortion provider and his bodyguard)

It looks like a Christian terrorist just took out another physician who performs abortions, Dr. George Tiller of Kansas: Suspect in Kansas abortion doctor's slaying reportedly belonged to anti-government militia Los Angeles Times 06/01/09. Gunned him down while he was attending church. As always in these cases, we should remember that the accused is just that, accused. What is a reasonable assumption in terms of judging news may not be the same as legal proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Especially with our national press as broken as it is, it's always helpful to remember that. But that also doesn't mean that we can't look at the environment of Christian terrorists, which looks very much like it was involved in this latest murder of an abortion provider.

(While looking up Paul Hill, the guy depicted above, I see that he attended Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi, at the same time I was attending Millsaps College just literally a few blocks away.)

Journalist Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism and The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power and the Future of the World, writes about George Tiller's murder this past weekend in The Pro-Life Insurrection The Daily Beast 06/001/09:

In this context, says Levin, Tiller's murder is a call to action. “I think the assassin wanted to make a statement by killing him at a church, to say that the holy act was killing this guy and ending this hypocrisy and saving babies,” he says. “He wanted to do more than just kill someone he considers an evil baby killer, wanted to send a message to friend and foe alike that hopefully there will be more.” Tiller’s assassination looks like what anarchists and far-right groups alike sometimes call the “propaganda of the deed.”

Randall Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, is unabashed in saying that the murder could help the antiabortion movement. “This is a teaching moment,” he said when reached by phone Sunday night. “We can talk about what a vile, evil man [Tiller] was, and discuss all the different ways that he killed children. Dr. Tiller was one of the most evil men on the planet. Part of my goal is I’m going to shore up pro-life leaders to not flinch, not fear, not waver.”

Indeed, as if he was following a script written by Levin, Terry complained about the timidity of his movement’s leadership, and said he was about to unveil a 14-part television series with the Latin title, Insurrecta Nex. “It means, ‘insurrection against the slaughter of innocent people,’” says Terry. Whether or not Terry knew about Roeder, he’s clearly gearing up for something.
One of the many problems in the Cheney-Bush administration's "War on Terror" was the administration's claim that The Terrorists were motivated by some nihilistic, inexplicable urge to destroy America and kill Americans. "They hate us for our freedoms." How many times did we hear that during the Cheney-Bush years?

But terrorism is a technique of warfare, not a generic ideology or brand of evil. And in understanding and combating terrorism, the ideology motivating them matters. Anti-abortion terrorists are not typically driven by the same ideology as tax-protester terrorists, though they may share some common political obsessions.

And I don't use the term "Christian terrorist" frivolously. Various forms of militant Christianity are very popular and influential on the far right, such as the Christian Identity movement. Randall Terry quoted above was a major figure in the "Patriot militia" movement during the 1990s.

David Neiwert and Sara Robinson at the Orcinus blog are already writing about this there, as I'm sure they will in their respective individual blogging at Crooks and Liars and Our Future. Sara writes in Jesus's Jihadis 05/31/09:

Tiller was one of just three doctors in the entire US who performed late-term abortions. Now, there are just two. Which means that 36 years of anti-choice terrorism is now just two assassinations away from completely ending late-term abortion in America. Violence has won out -- over the will of the people, over the courts, over the horrific logic of medical necessity. And whenever terrorists win, democracy has lost ...
And she catches an interesting symbolic element:

First Knoxville, then this. Sherilyn Ifill once made the point that lynchings typically occurred on courthouse lawns as a symbol that the mob had overridden the authority of the state and taken justice into its own hands. So what does it mean when right-wing terrorists start gunning down progressives in the pews of their own churches? Two events do not a pattern make -- but if this keeps happening, it'll be clear that there's a message being sent.
Sara considers herself to be a former (or recovering?) fundamentalist, and she writes:

I've often said that fundamentalism begins the minute you decide you have the One True Right and Only Way -- and that you have a God-given duty to impose that way on the rest of the world. Because of this, fundamentalists have never been willing to recognize the legitimacy of other faiths. And certain factions on the far right have never had qualms about vandalizing mosques or synagogues in order to harass Muslims and Jews into political and social silence.

But they used to leave Christian churches pretty much alone. The fact that this shooting occurred in a church (again) suggests that this tactic is now being tried out on more closely related faith groups whose views don't comport with the fundamentalist party line. As Dave has often pointed out, bringing violence to houses of worship is usually an overtly eliminationist act. They are trying to terrify liberals by making us feel at risk and unsafe inside our own spiritual sanctuaries -- the very places we go to feel the most security and peace. This is terrorism, plain and simple -- Christian fundamentalist terrorism, committed by people Sam Smith has started referring to as "Jesus's Jihadis." [my emphasis]
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