In response to the tragic church shootings in Colorado, Family Research Council head Tony Perkins naturally pointed the finger of blame at the "secular media." The senseless massacre of several deeply religious people by one of their own reflected, he claimed, "hostility that is being fomented in our culture from some in the secular media toward Christians." Of course, Perkins has it almost exactly backwards. Whether concerning abortion, gay Americans, immigration or judicial appointments, the line connecting the rhetoric of the Republican Party and the mainstream conservative movement to right-wing terror is a very short one.
The not-too-thinly veiled threats to American judges offer a particularly telling example. In June, 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 judges in Chicago and Atlanta, 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.
Judges, of course, aren't the only target of conservative venom. [The GOP crusade against gay Americans is a strategic centerpiece of 21st century Republican political strategy. Despite the seemingly endless parade of Mark Foley, Jim West, Ted Haggard, Ed Shrock, Larry Craig and a host of other once-closeted conservatives, the demonization of gay Americans and their supposed "homosexual agenda" by the Republican leadership and its radical right allies like Tony Perkins remains the reddest of red meat for so called "values voters."
The tactics and rhetoric of the gay-bashing are right are tied at the hip. In 2004, same-sex marriage ban ballot measures in key battleground states helped bring Karl Rove's four million new evangelical voters to the polls, ensuring President Bush's reelection. (Ironically, the same tactic failed the GOP during the 2006 mid-terms in the wake of the Mark Foley scandal.) Congressional Republicans uniformly opposed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which last month passed the House 235-184 despite GOP maneuvers to bury the bill. President Bush, of course, has vowed to veto the bill protecting the workplace rights of gay Americans, on the spurious grounds that it threatens "the sanctity of marriage."
Then, of course, there are the words of the Republican leadership and its echo chamber. Ex-Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and his one-time Texas colleague John Cornyn equate same-sex marriage to polygamy and bestiality, with "man-on-dog" and "man-on-box turtle" analogies. Columnist Ann Coulter, a Mitt Romney supporter and fixture on right-wing media, calls John Edwards a "faggot" and Al Gore a "total fag."
There is a continuum of hate that runs from the fringe of the conservative movement directly to the Republican leadership; the distance from Fred Phelps to the Republican National Committee is also a short one. As you'll recall, Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, organizes virulent anti-gay protests at U.S. military funerals, complete with signs such as "God Hates Fags" and "Thank God for IEDs," deaths it deems divine punishment for America's tolerance of gay lifestyles. Though Phelps later lost an $11 million lawsuit brought by a grieving father, President Bush and his amen corner share responsibility for giving the likes of Phelps aid and comfort.
Then, of course, there is abortion and reproductive rights. 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.
Unfortunately for the American people, the GOP has continued its devolution into the Party of Hate. Increasingly, the conservative movement seems to find 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. To be sure, the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil prior to 9/11, wasn't the product of the liberal media. And thanks to the unintended encouragement of the likes of Tony Perkins and his fellow travelers, Al Qaeda isn't the only terror threat to facing the United States.