Wednesday afternoon, James von Brunn, an 88 year old white supremacist, walked into the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC and shot and fatally wounded a security guard, Stephen Johns, before being shot and killed himself by the other security guards.
When does all this hatred and bigotry end? Past and present mingled together, as reported by the Washington Post:
Visitor Liliane Willens was heading into a basement auditorium to listen to a Holocaust survivor talk about her wartime experiences when she heard a noise that sounded like a roof falling in.
The audience in the crowded auditorium was told to stay put and that there had been a shooting but that people were safe where they were, she said.
Eventually, the Holocaust survivor went on with her presentation.
“It was quite ironic, because here was somebody talking about a tragedy in World War II, and here was this tragedy going on outside,” Willens said.
Another Washington Post article contains, to me, the most disturbing quote of the day, by an acquaintance and fellow white supremacist, John de Nugent:
“The responsible white separatist community condemns this,” he said. “It makes us look bad.”
Where have I heard this kind of thing before? Well, of course, a lot of places; but most recently, after another right-wing spurred killing, by the extremists in the anti-abortion movement.
Bill O’Reilly repeatedly referred to the recently murdered Dr. George Tiller as “Tiller the baby killer.” Yet, he’s “shocked, shocked” when a fellow anti-abortionist guns down Dr. Tiller, who was handing out church programs at his Kansas City church.
As Leslie Savan describes of O’Reilly’s broadcast the next day in The Nation’s blog:
O’Reilly briefly explained–after Dr. George Tiller was murdered, not before–why vigilantism and murdering those with whom you disagree is wrong. Then, he spent the rest of the four minutes bolstering his story–“no back-pedaling here…every single thing we said about Tiller was true”–and performing the old “I’m the victim” Fox-trot. “When I heard about Tiller’s murder,” he said, “I knew pro-abortion zealots and Fox News haters would attempt to blame us for the crime, and that is exactly what has happened.”
In Salon, Gabriel Winant notes that:
Tiller’s name first appeared on “The Factor” on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O’Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as “Tiller the Baby Killer.”
Tiller, O’Reilly likes to say, “destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000.” He’s guilty of “Nazi stuff,” said O’Reilly on June 8, 2005; a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida, he suggested on March 15, 2006. “This is the kind of stuff happened in Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union,” said O’Reilly on Nov. 9, 2006.
While O’Reilly feels no guilt, as Leslie Savan also notes on the Nation’s blog, former anti-abortion activist Frank Schaeffer does see how his and other’s words contributed to the murder of Dr. Tiller and other doctors, as he notes in the Huffington Post:
My late father and I share the blame (with many others) for the murder of Dr. George Tiller the abortion doctor gunned down on Sunday. Until I got out of the religious right (in the mid-1980s) and repented of my former hate-filled rhetoric I was both a leader of the so-called pro-life movement and a part of a Republican Party hate machine masquerading as the moral conscience of America.
Here is Frank Schaeffer being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC:
Now, Dr. Tiller was one of the few doctors providing third trimester abortions. In the Huffington Post, Mr. Schaeffer claims
Contributing to an extreme and sometimes violent climate has not only been the fault of the antiabortion crusaders. The Roe v. Wade decision went to far, too fast and was too sweeping. I believe that abortion should be legal. But I also believe that it should be re-regulated according to fetal development. It’s the late term abortions that horrify most people. that this is where the law goes to far, contributing to the climate of violence.
Who are these women who have late term abortions. Are they as Salon says O’Reilly portrays them?
Tiller’s excuses for performing late-term abortions, O’Reilly suggested, were frou-frou, New Age, false ailments: The woman might have a headache or anxiety, or have been dumped by her boyfriend. She might be “depressed,” scoffed O’Reilly, which he dismissed as “feeling a bit blue and carr[ying] a certified check.”
Barbara Shelly in the Kansas City Star tells the story of one couple who came to Dr. Tiller’s clinic for help.
Phillip Wood and his wife were joyfully preparing for the births of twin boys when, midway through the pregnancy, everything went wrong.
They drove from their home in Missouri to a hospital in Florida in hopes of a surgical procedure to save the boys.
Doctors at the Catholic-affiliated hospital told them neither twin would survive, and his wife was at risk of a ruptured uterus. That would make her infertile and could threaten her life.
After being turned away at a clinic in Illinois because the fetuses were too far along by the guidelines they had to follow.
They ran the gantlet of protesters, who pleaded with Woods’ wife not to end her pregnancy. Inside, they signed forms required by the state informing them, among other things, that their sons looked human and could feel pain.
About Dr. Tiller, Mr. Wood said: “He took time to listen to us. He was very appropriate and involved me in all steps of the abortion.”
After the twins had been aborted, Tiller gave the parents time with them. They performed a brief baptismal ceremony.
“While I held the bodies of my sons he stood to the side and wept, very quietly and very briefly,” Wood said.
So we meet one of the couples the anti-abortionists are demonizing on the issue of late term abortion.
Tiller, the physician slain on Sunday in Wichita, was too often defined by his adversaries. On Web sites, TV and radio talk shows, and in legislative hearings, they portrayed him as the reckless “abortionist,” willing to euthanize babies close to birth just so the mother could fit into a prom dress or attend a rock concert.
That portrayal always defied logic. Would someone in the third trimester of pregnancy really travel to the heart of Kansas and pay a $6,000 medical fee just to fit into a size 6 party dress?
The Woods are very much the typical patient who after much agonizing, choose a late abortion, or the 9–year-old girl raped by her father who Judith Warner writes about in her blog in the New York Times. As Barbara Shelly’s Kansas City Star blog notes:
The overwhelming majority of the 250 to 300 women a year who sought late-term abortions from Tiller had planned their pregnancies. They came to him heartbroken and afraid, carrying fetuses with malfunctioning kidneys, missing organs and syndromes certain to cause death in the womb or soon after birth.
A much smaller number of late-term patients were rape and incest victims, sometimes very young girls. Some were directed to Tiller by prosecutors.
Contrary to the false portrayal of him by anti-abortion activists and politicians, Tiller didn’t automatically consent to perform an abortion for any patient who requested one. He understood the constraints of Kansas law and he knew he was being watched.
But even in those instances, he tried to help. Over the years, Tiller arranged dozens of adoptions, Brownlie said.
If those of us on the left have made an error, it’s in our zeal to protect a woman’s right to choose many of us have not examined this issue and have not realized either what kind of choice women are likely going through when their pregnancy gets to this point and then chooses to end it. Those of us willing to defend late term abortion are usually doing it from the point of view that we defend a woman’s choice at any point, while maybe because they think these abortions are frivolous and heartless as O’Reilly depicts it, ending pregnancy this late is beyond the point other women are willing to defend. Precisely because most of us don’t realize these are women (and couples) in desperation because of serious birth defects, or children who are victims of incest or rape so young they will be in danger if they give birth. I had wrongly thought that, of course we protect women in both those circumstances.
Are anti-abortion attacks domestic terrorism, as the PBS show NOW asks in yesterday’s episode chronicling what another doctor and his family go through because of his work at an abortion clinic? I’d say definitely yes, and unfortunately one that authorities often don’t want to look as closely at.
Do words have consequences, and are calls to extremism, whether by the right or left incitements to violence, as Mr. Schaeffer says (and many columnists on the left say in reference to O’Reilly?):
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.
When evangelicals on the right call President Obama a socialist, a racist, anti-American, an abortionist, not a real American, and, echoing the former Vice President, someone who is weakening America’s defenses and making us less safe, the logical conclusion is violence. If you take these words literally you might pull the trigger to “make America safe” and/or free us from communism or to even protect us from — what some “Christian” leaders claim — Obama as the Antichrist.
Here is the problem. I believe it does, and we are in for truly dangerous times from the far right. To be fair, I think the rhetoric of the far edge of the left in the 60’s led to a few extremists who killed people (something, ironically, O’Reilly likes to dredge up from the past).
Yet, there’s O’Reilly’s defender in his right to free speech, who I agree with, too. Yes, ironically, it’s the ACLU. You didn’t think they just defended us lefties! When questioned about the accusations O’Reilly was to blame for Dr. Tiller’s murder by some liberal journalists and bloggers (bringing up footage of O’Reilly repeatedly saying “Tiller the baby killer”) in the New York Times:
Burt Neuborne, a professor of law at New York University and a former legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while the debate was not new, “the ability to technologically call up snippets of speech” is.
Mr. Neuborne said that a commentator’s language, no matter how colorful, generally cannot be treated as an incitement unless it directly instructs individuals to commit violence.
“In every complex political setting, there’s a tendency to single out the loudest of the other side and claim that what they’re doing is not political speech but is incitement,” he said. “It’s important not to allow that to happen. It would have a dramatic effect on the ability to speak vigorously.”
To some extent I agree here, too; even though it’s contradictory. It is the dilemma of freedom of speech. On the one had, I don’t want to see people’s right to say what they believe censored (even if it’s the total opposite of what I believe). Yet, what about when the speech is urging people to violence and urging them to de-humanize others? It was very much the use of hate filled speech that started things off in Hitler’s Germany and by the government controlled radio in Rwanda.
On the other hand, Bill Moyers brought up another important part of the equation on his commentary at the end of Bill Moyers Journal last night, and in Truthout online: “Why have we stopped talking about guns?”
As Moyers noted, the Holocaust Museum shooting, Tiller’s murder and a less well known case of a shooting at a military recruiting office in Little Rock were not the only ones this year.
Soon, however, these terrible deeds will be forgotten, as are already the three policemen killed by an assault weapon in Pittsburgh; the four policemen killed in Oakland, California; the 13 people gunned down in Binghamton, New York; the 10 in an Alabama shooting spree; five in Santa Clara, California; the eight dead in a North Carolina, nursing home. All during this year alone.
Certainly I wouldn’t classify all these murders as hate crimes. The terrible shootings of immigrants and those helping them, by another immigrant, in Binghamton, New York, near where I grew up was obviously the work of a crazy man (come to think of it, many hate crimes are as well). Then there are the killings by criminals in the midst of their crimes.
So, Mr. Moyers takes issue with us only talking about hate:
There is much talk about hate talk; hate crimes against blacks, whites, immigrants, Muslims, Jews; about violence committed in the name of bigotry or religion. But why don’t we talk about guns?
We’re arming ourselves to death. Even as gunshots ricocheted around the country, an amendment allowing concealed weapons in national parks snuck into the popular credit card reform bill. Another victory for the gun lobby, to sounds of silence from the White House.
As Moyers points out “neither party will stand up to the National Rifle Association, the best known front group for the arms merchants.” He goes on to mention a conservative organization who, after the Holocaust Museum shooting on Wednesday, offered him and others in the media “a chance to interview the founder of ‘Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership,’ whose expertise, it was said, is in helping people understand why gun control doesn’t belong in a civilized society.”
Thanks, but no thanks. And no thanks to his counterparts among Christians and Muslims who use every violent shedding of blood to try to promote the worship of guns. Guns don’t kill people, they say. People kill people. True. People kill people – with guns.
So let the faithful of every persuasion keep their guns for hunting and skeet, for trap and target practice, for collecting. They can even have a permit for a gun to protect their business or home, even though it’s 22 times more likely to shoot a member of the family (including suicides) than an intruder.
But please, there are already some 200 million, privately owned firearms in America. Every year there are 30,000 gun deaths and in some years more than 400,000 non-fatal, gun-related assaults. The next time someone wades through a pool of blood to sidle up and champion the preservation of firearms, can’t we just say, no thanks?
Which, ironically, brings me back to the actual lyrics for the misheard one’s I joked about from Pearl Jam’s Glorified G in my last post. While contemplating what the band means by the metaphor of “four or five virgins and a pelican” must make for some interesting discussions, what Eddie’s actually singing is “glorified version of a pellet gun” and that odd (but too common) juxtaposition of God and guns that Moyers also noted:
Got a gun, fact I got two
That’s ok man, cuz I love god
Glorified version of a pellet gun
Feels so manly, when armed
Glorified version of a pellet gun
Glorified version of a pellet gun
Glorified version of a pellet gun
Glorified version of a pellet gun
While whether words kill people is subject to debate (and I think they can contribute), one thing is certain, guns kill people; or rather, as Bill Moyers noted, people with guns kill people. Why aren’t we talking about guns? At least, most of us.
Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, wrote – just days before the Holocaust Museum incident – that “rather than propose concrete action that makes it harder for dangerous people to get firearms – while still respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners – all Washington can seem to muster after high-profile shootings are ‘thoughts and prayers’ for the victims and their families.
Why can’t we come up with some common sense gun laws? Should people with criminal records or mental illness be able to easily buy guns? I know gun rights advocates always claim laws are already on the books. If so, why aren’t they being enforced? How about some limits as to where people can have guns? Guns in National Parks? Seriously?!! Seattle had the common sense to ban them from our Folklife concerts at Seattle Center (following a shooting).
There’s still this frontier mystique by gun lovers, that somehow we’ll all be safer if everyone started packing a six shooter on our hip.
Sorry to intrude with reality, but too many people are already being killed by guns. No, I won’t feel any safer being caught in the middle of shoot outs on the bus or during highway road range, or from someone a little crazy trying to get away from the voices in his head at a National Park.
What I am certain of is that we could use less hate and fewer guns.
photo from National Park Service
Oh, that and we need to save the pelicans, who are dying mysteriously. I’m not sure where the four or five virgins fit into this equation. ; )