"My tears are flowing and I am stunned and angered that Gabby Giffords was savagely gunned down while performing her congressional duties." So said Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann in response to Saturday's mass killing in Tucson. But less than a year ago, Bachmann called for resistance to cap and trade legislation, "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue," adding, "Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing."
Sadly, when it comes to the casual incitement to violence, Michele Bachmann has plenty of company among the leading lights of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. While the motivation (and mental health) of the alleged Tucson mass killer Jared Lee Loughner remains unclear, his bloodbath served to once again highlight the most dangerous development in American politics:
Whether concerning guns, abortion, gay Americans, immigration or judicial appointments, the line connecting the now commonplace rhetoric of the Republican Party to right-wing terror is a very short one.
Increasingly, the conservative movement finds its strongest support at the dark nexus inhabited by gun rights advocates, religious zealots, white supremacists, anti-immigrant xenophobes, pro-life activists and anti-government crusaders.
The Growing Right-Wing Body Count
In October, Fox and Friends host Brian Kilmeade declared, "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims." Of course, Timothy McVeigh, the killer of 168 Americans in the worst act of domestic terrorism prior to 9/11 was no jihadist, but an anti-government extremist and militia member. And his heirs have a growing body count of their own.
That includes men and McVeigh worshippers like Bruce and Joshua Turnidge. The father and son team of right-wing terrorists killed two policemen and wounded two others in their botched December 2008 bombing of a Woodburn, Oregon bank. Convicted and sentenced to death last month, their trial revealed that the Wells Fargo explosion in the days just after the election of Barack Obama allegedly had a much more sinister motivation than mere cash:
Bruce and Joshua Turnidge had long harbored anti-government feelings, but the November 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama served as a "catalyst" for the father and son to plant a bomb at the West Coast Bank and plan a bank robbery, prosecutors said today.
The two men feared that the Obama administration would impose a slate of new restrictions on gun ownership, Marion County deputy district attorney Katie Suver said in opening statements in the aggravated murder trials for the two men. Bruce Turnidge, years ago during the Clinton administration, had similarly anticipated a crackdown on Second Amendment rights and sought funding to start his own militia, she said.
In July, Byron Williams planned an attack on the offices of the Tides Foundation, a group which Glenn Beck described as "bullies" and "thugs." Williams' hoped-for bloodbath was averted only by a shoot-out with police in which two officers were wounded. Williams claimed he wanted to "start a revolution" and explained, "I would have never started watching Fox News if it wasn't for the fact that Beck was on there. And it was the things that he did, it was the things he exposed that blew my mind."
And in just the months since Barack Obama's inauguration, the Turnidges have been accompanied by fellow travelers, though not while making the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. Another father and son act, Jerry and Joe Kane, featured supposed sovereign citizens who killed two cops in West Memphis in May. Holocaust Museum killer James Von Bruun declared, "Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do." Richard Poplawski, who murdered three Pittsburgh policemen in April 2009 was said to have feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon." And aspiring Maine dirty bomber James Trafton "had filled out an application to join the National Socialist Movement and declared an ambition to kill the President-elect."
And these decidedly non-Muslim terrorists fly planes into buildings, too. Take the case of Joseph Stack, who piloted his small craft into an Austin IRS office, killing himself and an agency employee. Stack's radical anti-tax rhetoric may have been shocking ("Well Mr. Big Brother IRS Man, let's try something different, take my pound of flesh and sleep well"), but little different from Republican leaders in the 1990's who charged "The IRS is out of control!" and decried its " Gestapo-like tactics."
Then there's Scott Roeder. The assassin of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller made no secret of his political aims, which did not include the establishment of a global Islamic caliphate. Roeder was inspired by Shelley Shannon, who in the 1990's torched abortion clinics across Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, and California. (In 1993, she shot Dr. George Tiller in both arms in a failed assassination attempt.) And as the New York Times recounted in 1995, Shannon was quite clear as to whether she considered her crimes terrorism:
Handcuffed and nondescript in jailhouse blues, Shelley Shannon, a housewife from rural Oregon, stood before a Federal judge here on June 7 and admitted waging a terrorism campaign against abortion clinics and doctors.
In December, right-wing radio shock jock and past Sean Hannity regular Hal Turner was sentenced to 33 months in jail for his on-air threats against federal judges in Chicago. But when Turner posted information about the judges online and declared, "Let me be the first to say this plainly: these Judges deserve to be killed," he differed only in degree and not kind from some of the biggest names in the Republican Party.
The not-too-thinly veiled threats to American judges offer a particularly telling example. In June 2007, Judge Reggie Walton was only the latest to receive threatening calls and letters, just days after he handed down his sentence in the Scooter Libby case.
Sadly, many of the leading lights in the Republican Party have it made clear that judicial intimidation is now an acceptable part of conservative discourse and political strategy. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), himself a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, has been at the forefront of GOP advocacy of violence towards members of the bench whose rulings part ways with conservative orthodoxy.
Back in 2005, Cornyn was one of the GOP standard bearers in the conservative fight against so-called "judicial activism" in the wake of the Republicans' disastrous intervention in the Terri Schiavo affair. On April 4th, Cornyn took to the Senate floor to issue a not-too-thinly veiled threat to judges opposing his reactionary agenda. Just days after the murders of a judge in Atlanta and the spouse of another in Chicago, Cornyn offered his endorsement of judicial intimidation:
"I don't know if there is a cause-and-effect connection, but we have seen some recent episodes of courthouse violence in this country...And I wonder whether there may be some connection between the perception in some quarters, on some occasions, where judges are making political decisions yet are unaccountable to the public, that it builds up and builds up and builds up to the point where some people engage in, engage in violence."
As it turns out, Cornyn was merely echoing the words of the soon-to-be indicted House Majority Leader Tom Delay. On March 31st, Delay issued a statement regarding the consistent rulings in favor of Michael Schiavo by all federal and state court judges involved:
"The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior, but not today."
The impact of tacit conservative endorsement of violence against judges cannot be dismissed. After all, it extends to members of the Supreme Court of the United States. In March 2006, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed that she and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor were the targets of death threats. On February 28th, 2005, the marshal of the Court informed O'Connor and Ginsburg of an Internet posting citing their references to international law in Court decisions (a frequent whipping boy of the right) as requiring their assassination:
"This is a huge threat to our Republic and Constitutional freedom...If you are what you say you are, and NOT armchair patriots, then those two justices will not live another week."
Neither O'Connor nor Ginsburg are shy about making the connection between Republican rhetoric of judicial intimidation and the upswing in threats and actual violence against judges. Ginsburg noted that they "fuel the irrational fringe" O'Connor blamed Cornyn and his fellow travelers for "creating a culture" in which violence towards judges is merely another political tactic:
"It gets worse. It doesn't help when a high-profile senator suggests a 'cause-and-effect connection' [between controversial rulings and subsequent acts of violence.]"
When anthrax spores were mailed to the Supreme Court in 2001, it did not require a leap of imagination to speculate on the ideological persuasion of the culprit. Aided by best-selling conservative author and media personality Ann Coulter, who joked in January 2006, "We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," the right-wing endorsement of retribution against judges increasingly permeates the culture.
Pro-Gun and Anti-Government
A year after Michele Bachmann made her now infamous "armed and dangerous" call to action, Nevada Senate candidate and Tea Party darling Sharron Angle suggested her supporters would turn to bullets if ballots failed them.
If this Congress keeps going the way it is, people are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies.
As Barton Gellman detailed in a Time feature titled, "The Secret World of Extreme Militias," that process is already well underway.
And in Tennessee, a follower of conservative hate merchant Bernard Goldberg cited the author's writings as justification for his July shooting at a Unitarian church. In his suicide note, the shooter James Adkisson informed Americans his was a "hate crime" against "damn left-wing liberals":
"This was a symbolic killing. Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg's book. I'd like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn't get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people. Someone had to get the ball rolling. I volunteered. I hope others do the same. It's the only way we can rid America of this cancerous pestilence."
While Poplawski, Trafton, Adkisson and perhaps Loughner may have existed on the fringes of the conservative movement, some of their rhetoric parrots the words of mainstream Republican politicians and right-wing pundits.
On perhaps no issue is the seamless continuum from Republican incitement to right-wing violence more pervasive - and dangerous - than abortion.
Long before the assassination of Dr. Tiller, the man Bill O'Reilly repeatedly called "the Baby Killer," anti-abortion extremists were producing a mounting death toll across the United States even as GOP leader provided them with rhetorical aid and comfort.
In December 2004, for example, anti-choice forces cheered as Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) were placed on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Brownback has been among the prime architects of so-called "fetal pain" legislation would have required a woman seeking an abortion to be told that the fetus might feel pain. Coburn, the freshman Senator and and obstetrician, has advocated the death penalty for doctors who perform abortions.
The logical leap from Coburn's office to the legions of anti-abortion extremists is a short one. No doubt, Atlanta Olympics and family planning clinic bomber Eric Rudolph or James Kopp, killer of doctor Bernard Slepien, would applaud these Republican leaders. To paraphrase Tony Perkins, "It is hard not to draw a line between the hostility" the conservative movement foments towards reproductive rights advocates and the violence of 2007 would-be Austin, Texas clinic terrorist Paul Ross Evans.
Of course, to former Republican vice presidential candidate and conservative heartthrob Sarah Palin, the likes of Rudolph, Kopp or Evans don't qualify as terrorists. While even Attorney General Ashcroft used the "T" word to describe Rudolph upon his arrest in 2003, during an October 2008 interview with NBC's Brian Williams Palin refused to similarly brand violent right-wing radicals as the terrorists:
WILLIAMS: Is an abortion clinic bomber a terrorist, under this definition, governor?
PALIN: (Sigh). There's no question that Bill Ayers via his own admittance was one who sought to destroy our U.S. Capitol and our Pentagon. That is a domestic terrorist. There's no question there. Now, others who would want to engage in harming innocent Americans or facilities that uh, it would be unacceptable. I don't know if you're going to use the word terrorist there.
But we should. As Charles Blow suggested in a New York Times op-ed which coincidentally appeared the same day as the carnage in Pittsburgh, the "hotheaded expostulation" of Chuck Norris, Glenn Beck, Michele Bachmann and their ilk isn't "all just harmless talk."
Sadly, what David Neiwert branded the conservative movement's "hate talk" hardly ends there. Immigrants, gay Americans and Muslims have all been on the receiving end of right-wing venom and violence.
And Republicans leaders and their frothing-at-the-mouth Tea Party faithful apparently find the whole thing funny. At an August 2009 tow hall meeting, California Republican Wally Herger warned, "Our democracy has never been threatened as much as it is today." And as the Mt. Shasta News reported:
One speaker said he could trace his ancestors back to the Mayflower and said "they did not arrive holding their hands out for help."
"I am a proud right wing terrorist," he declared to cheers.
Herger praised the man's attitude. "Amen, God bless you," Herger said with a broad smile. "There is a great American."
Those supposedly great Americans who fumed when the Department of Homeland Security released a report on the threat of right-wing terror that April (and just weeks after Rep. Giffords received death threats and had her office vandalized over her health care vote) were laughing at it just months later. By the time the midterm election was heating up, ,Sarah Palin mimicked the online target lists of anti-abortion extremists by showing Democratic districts in her crosshairs.
After the carnage in Bloody Arizona, no one should be laughing anymore.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)