Over the weekend, an a doctor named George Tiller–who provided abortions to women who needed them–was gunned down as he entered his church. The shooting was part of a long campaign of anti-abortion violence aimed at intimidating doctors who perform abortions. Not only that, it’s part of an upsurge in harassment of clinics since President Barack Obama took office. The lead suspect in the case has long been associated with the anti-abortion movement–a movement which has successfully restricted access to abortion over the years.
While the media coverage of the shooting has been correct to put in the context of a long history of anti-abortion violence–including shootings and clinic bombings–few media outlets spoke of the attack as an act of terrorism. Almost universally the shooting was referred to as simply a “shooting” or a “murder”–not as an act of terrorism. The only newspaper that mentioned the shooting in relation to “domestic terrorism” was the Los Angeles Times. Online alternative media has been quick to call the shooting terrorism, with The Huffington Post (1, 2) and Salon.com both ran articles calling the attack an act of domestic terrorism.
I’m not a huge fan of calling every crime under the sun terrorism, as the government has been wont to do in recent years, but it’s hard to imagine calling this attack anything else. The federal government defines “domestic terrorism” as:
`(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
`(B) appear to be intended–
`(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
`(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
`(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;
Under this definition, this was clearly an act of domestic terrorism. Tiller was specifically targeted for assassination with the goal of ending his capacity to perform abortions and intimidating doctors who perform them. Tiller’s movements were tracked by the anti-abortion movement and he was hated within that movement. He had previously been the target of protests and acts of violence. In the 1980s, his clinic was regularly targeted by protestors, it was bombed, and Tiller himself was shot. Recently, his clinic had been vandalized–an act that did thousands of dollars of damage. Tiller had also just beaten trumped up charges that he violated Kansas law.
Contrast with Left-Wing Violence
I think it’s interesting to contrast the media’s coverage of this case with so-called acts of terrorism committed by the left in the United States. Crimes committed by the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front–groups which engage in the criminal destruction of property and economic sabotage–are routinely labeled “terrorist” and both the media and the government are quick to call those crimes “terrorism.” For example, when environmental activist Marie Mason was arrested last year for a politically motivated arson at Michigan State University (MSU), the corporate media universally called the act “terrorism,” even before she was convicted. This echoed coverage back when the arson happened in 2000. No human lives were harmed or threatened–although the government and media would later hype the fact that the resulting fire put firefighters in harm’s way.
Similarly, environmental and animal activists have been rounded up as part of the government’s “green scare” campaign and labeled “terrorists”–and even imprisoned–when they have engaged only in acts that damage property, not taken human life. Moreover, there has been a recent trend of charging animal rights activists with terrorism for undertaking acts that are otherwise protected under the First Amendment–such as protests and informational campaigns.
How do you think the media and government would respond if it was a vivisectionist that was shot? I’m willing to bet there would be allegations of “terrorism” coming from all quarters.