As you’re probably aware, right now dozens of self-styled American “militia” members are holed up deep inside an empty federal nature preserve in Oregon, claiming that they’ve taken it back for the people (as is their supposed Constitutional right). Led by two sons of racist, anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy, these heavily armed domestic terrorists have put the call out for like-minded military cosplaying yokels to join them in what they say will be a long battle against the evil United States government, one they’re prepared to turn into an active shooting war if necessary.
For years now, certainly since the beginning of the Obama presidency, the fever dreams of conspiracy theorist dolts like the “militiamen” now in Oregon have been stoked and pandered to by the conservative establishment and its media arm at Fox News and on talk radio. The heated, alarmist rhetoric — the calls of “arm yourselves!” and the absurd cries of “tyranny!” — has created an environment in which the kind of domestic terrorism we’re now seeing was always an inevitability, given that shouting “fire” in a crowded theater tends to make people get up and run. There’s a cause and effect relationship here that’s undeniable. What’s happening in Oregon is the chicken-hawks coming home to roost within the end-times, eliminationist fantasy world of the modern conservative movement.
Last month, in response to the deadly shooting rampage at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, I wrote a piece for our Banter weekly magazine, “Banter M,” that aimed to catalog the ways in which the American right has become a terrorist organization, one that facilitates, panders to, or outright engages in domestic terrorism. Today, we’re re-running that piece here on the main page because I think the terrorism we’re seeing in Oregon right now is just more proof of the point I was trying to make.
Let’s be completely honest with ourselves about what motivated Robert Dear to shoot up a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado City. According to several reports, during his arrest Dear told police “no more baby parts,” almost certainly a reference to the rhetoric surrounding a series of entirely discredited videos released earlier this year that purport to show Planned Parenthood employees arranging the sale of aborted fetus organs to the highest bidder. The clips were championed far and wide by the GOP and its furiously anti-abortion boosters within the conservative infotainment complex, who seemed to collectively decide to distill the videos down to one highly inflammatory implication: Planned Parenthood was selling baby parts. From Fox News to the floor of the Republican controlled House, the words “baby parts” were specifically used to describe what Planned Parenthood was supposedly trafficking in. Baby parts. Spoken over and over again as both a talking point and a call to arms. Can anybody be surprised that Robert Dear heard that call loud and clear and literally took up arms?
When a group preaches violence in the service of a political goal or to coerce a population, we call that group a terrorist organization. But what about when a group engages in the grossly negligent practice of stoking the fears and resentments of those within its ranks who might be inclined to violence? What about when a group that hammers home the notion that true patriots are heavily armed and ready to fight for their way of life tells those same “patriots” that that way of life is under attack? What about when a group knows full well that there’s a substantial portion of its already edgy public that worships the Second Amendment and then warns those people that “Second Amendment remedies” may be necessary to stop the slide into tyranny? What about when a group tells a bunch of crazy people with guns that baby murderers who casually defy the will of almighty God are within their midst and must be stopped? Can we call a group like that a terrorist organization if its rhetoric indeed spawns political bloodshed? If not, then why not? If we saw it happening in another country it would be easy for us to apply that designation. The reality is that the only thing stopping us from calling it what it is here in America is that it’s happening here in America
Officially, the Republican party and the conservative establishment claim not to condone violence, but those claims ring hollow when you look at the facts. Over the past several years we’ve seen a rising tide of right-wing extremism in the United States and the general response from the Republican leaders to this has been, at best, to deny its existence to the point where they attack the people bringing them the facts they’d rather not hear, or, at worst, to quietly give sanction to this extremism by continuing to manufacture the atmosphere that foments these extremist outbursts. We all saw what happened in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security released its report warning of the dangers of right-wing terrorism — when the conservative infotainment complex immediately rushed in to blame the “Obama DHS” for targeting the right, dismissing altogether the most undeniable points of the report — and the reaction was much the same to a report earlier this year that warned yet again that right-wing extremism was a clear and present danger to the safety of the United States. Certainly more so than any threat from foreign terrorism.
It would be easy to point to the conservative establishment’s embrace of racist lunatics like Cliven Bundy — whose stand-off with the federal government included the ridiculous military cosplayer group the Oath Keepers and other “sovereign citizens” pointing assault rifles at federal agents — as proof of its grotesque willingness to enable extremism. Likewise, there was the Texas governor’s legitimization of the paranoia over the military exercise known as “Jade Helm 15,” an anxiety held to by well-armed conspiracy theorists who believe that any day now they may need to defend their homeland by force, arguably becoming the very terrorists they live in fear of. Just as pointedly, there’s been the seven years of Republican fear-mongering over the supposed true identity of President Obama, irresponsible rhetoric that continues to this very day and which one could easily see putting the life of the President of the United States in danger. (The Secret Service certainly thinks so.) But these specific examples are bombs that haven’t completely detonated yet, taking lives with them. They’re threats of violence and an atmosphere of violence but they’re not actual violence.
To recognize the modern GOP and conservative establishment as an engine of terrorism, you don’t even need to try to draw flimsy lines to these potential problems — that’s because there are plenty of cases where their rhetorical bluster and eliminationist fantasies have borne real bloody fruit. And nowhere is that more the case than in the fight over abortion, which has been a violent one for years — with anti-abortion activists resorting to murder to stop what they believe are more murders — but which lately saw its most horrific casualty count in a single act. What’s more, that casualty count seemed to come, again, as a direct result of irresponsible bombast and direct language used by Republicans the the right in general. Republican politicians spoke specifically to rile up the base and someone in the base — the heavily armed, barely hanging onto sanity base — responded exactly as you would’ve expected.
On Wednesday, during his first appearance in court following his rampage at Planned Parenthood, Robert Dear interrupted the proceedings several times, admitting his guilt and calling himself a “warrior for the babies.” He shouted about how he protected the babies being killed in the clinic and how people “wouldn’t believe the amount of blood” he saw while he was there (an ironic claim given that amount of blood he himself spilled). It can be argued that Dear is completely off the rails, but the fact remains that he’s a staunch fundamentalist Christian and someone who therefore allows his abiding religious principles to guide him, making him precisely the kind of person who could be easily activated by, say, Carly Fiorina going on television and saying that she saw actual video of “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone (who works for Planned Parenthood) says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” Activated, by the way is the right word to use in this context, because like so many before him, Dear was almost certainly influenced by those within the power structure of the political movement he subscribed to. They speak from positions of authority and claim to be telling the truth — even through Fiorina wasn’t; the video she says she saw simply doesn’t exist — which is more than enough to trigger a guy like Robert Dear to action.
In the wake of the Planned Parenthood shooting, I reached out to a friend of mine who’s an expert on both domestic and international terrorism. Mario Velarde has a degree in political science from St. Thomas University in Miami and he’s already completed the Department of Homeland Security terrorism analysis course; he plans to go to work as an analyst for the FBI while completing his law degree. I asked him whether preaching the need for revolution — or using superheated rhetoric that implies violence — to people who it’s obvious may be inclined to listen and resort to deadly force makes one in some way responsible for the actions of those people. Does the Republican party and conservative infotainment movement’s negligently or knowingly influencing terrorist acts make them a kind of terrorist organization? He responded that what the right is doing these days and the response to it has all the hallmarks of “leaderless resistance.”
“Leaderless resistance is a two-tiered approach. The first tier can be a group or individual, let’s say for argument’s sake Carly Fiorina, who stokes up fear over a place or an objective. They may say in a public announcement something like Planned Parenthood is an awful place. So the first tier provided incentive and a location. The second tier is the tier that carries out the attack. They don’t have to have any communication at all with the first tier. The second tier can be a lone wolf or sleeper cells that only activate when they have chosen a target… Anti-abortionists tend to be lone wolves and not an organized cell. The Center for Medical Progress and any candidate or organization that furthered that false baby parts narrative is directly responsible for this. They may not face any prosecution but this is all on them.”
Velarde continues, saying that Dear was likely “motivated to act” by the doctored videos from the “Center for Medical Progress,” which claimed to show haggling over baby parts, Carly Fiorina’s graphic anti-abortion bluster and the general conservative shibboleth that Planned Parenthood is a baby murder factory. Given that what Dear did was positively a terrorist act, this makes the group that provided the impetus for his violence “most certainly a terrorist organization.” Dear was, in the same way that Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik were in the years before they killed more than a dozen people in San Bernardino — radicalized. Farook and Malik were radicalized by the rhetoric of the Islamic militants of Daesh (ISIS); Dear was radicalized by a ceaseless flow of white-hot hyperbole and outright falsehoods coming from the American right on the subject of abortion. When this combined with his powerful adherence to the Christian faith, he knew he had to act — in the same way the talk of the infidels violating the will of Allah combined with Farook and Malik’s strong Islamic faith to create the same kind of bloodbath.
That’s what it really comes down to: using religion and the fear of tyranny and an ongoing violation of the will of God to provoke a reaction. Eight days before the Planned Parenthood attack, Ted Cruz — remember, a Republican candidate for President of the United States — praised an anti-abortion extremist named Troy Newman, a guy with a history of preaching violence. Cruz embraced him fully, touting his endorsement of the Cruz campaign. Imagine the message that sends. There are people in positions of power within a major political party and with its communication arm both on cable news and talk radio who legitimize violent rhetoric. There are those who engage in it themselves. They used charged language like “don’t retreat, reload”; they paint an entire religion as a threat to America; they know who their audience is and yet they willfully enable and encourage them to arm themselves and be prepared to fight; they warn of oppression and the coming Armageddon and claim that the defense of their ideals is God’s will, the same way Islamist groups do; they have booming voices, both in government and via the media and their point is heard loud and clear by their followers.
In the wake of the Planned Parenthood attack, YouTube preacher Josh Feurstein took to the internet to encourage more violence against the organization. “I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life,” he said. There haven’t been any new terrorist attacks on the level of Colorado City against Planned Parenthood yet, but we should be reminded that during the tenure of Glenn Beck’s daily apocalyptic ramblings on Fox News, there were a whole series of attacks involving edgy people with guns who claimed they were inspired by Beck. One killed three police officers in Pittsburgh and another got into a shootout with the California Highway Patrol on the way to shoot up the offices of an organization Beck had targeted as a threat to America day in and day out. These acts are no different from the two-tiered “leaderless resistance” that took place in Paris and in San Bernardino. It may not be officially sanctioned by the top tier, but the voices there deserve the blame. It’s their message. Their cause. Their fault.
(Photo: Les Zaitz/The Oregonian)