Just one week after John McCain stunned Americans with his sneering contempt for the "health of the mother" needing an abortion, his running mate Sarah Palin refused to condemn anti-abortion terrorists as terrorists. By giving a pass to convicted killers like Eric Rudolph and James Kopp, Palin is just the latest in a long line of leading conservatives to provide the kindling for far right domestic terrorism. As recent history shows, when it comes to 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.
Palin's alarming position surfaced during her joint appearance with McCain in an interview with NBC's Brian Williams. Training her fire on Bill Ayers, 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.
Palin's casual disregard for the safety of Americans is sadly the natural extension of both Republican policies and her own personal story. The McCain-Palin ticket, after all, is running on a GOP platform which calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion even in cases of rape and incest. John McCain himself has not only opposed legislation to protect family planning clinics, but in 1993 addressed the radical anti-abortion group Oregon Citizens Alliance. (One of its members, Shelley Shannon was convicted for shooting and wounding a doctor, an act for which the judge branded her "a terrorist.") And back in the 1990's, Sarah Palin herself was among those protesting outside women's health clinics.
The logical leap from Sarah Palin to the legions of anti-abortion extremists is a short one. No doubt, Palin's unrepentant terrorists including Shannon, Atlanta Olympics and family planning clinic bomber Eric Rudolph and 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.
For its part, the Justice Department made clear just how seriously it took these terror threats. In 1999, Army of God member James Kopp joined Osama Bin Laden on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted List. And when Rudolph was arrested in 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft used the "T" word:
"This sends a clear message that we will never cease in our efforts to hunt down all terrorists, foreign or domestic, and stop them from harming the innocent."
(Unsurprisingly, by 2005 the Bush Department of Homeland Security only considered leftist radicals to be domestic terror threats.)
But curtailing reproductive rights for American women isn't the only case where now mainstream Republican rhetoric fans the flames of right-wing terror.
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 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, the GOP's amen corner shares responsibility for giving the likes of Phelps aid and comfort.
And so it goes. As the 2008 election winds down, Republican leaders including John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mel Martinez, Virgil Goode, Robin Hayes, Michele Bachmann, Randy Kuhl, Nancy Pfotenhauer and a host of others extol supposed "real Americans." The Party of Hate's sinister speech spurs hatred and division, and in some cases violence. But as would-be Vice President Sarah Palin insists, just don't call them terrorists.