The Assassination of Dr. George Tiller

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The American ruling establishment —like all capitalist elites—has no real desire or pressing need to crush rightwing fanatics, as these constitute a class ally, and a ready-made reservoir of muscle capable of terrorizing the left when necessary.  History has shown that such groups often end up working hand-in-glove with the state’s repressive apparatus, especially useful to perpetrate “extra-judicial” executions and other dirty deeds, that their ranks are easily infiltrated, and that they remain a direct threat to real democracy. In any truly civilized nation this would not be tolerated to the extent it is in America. The result is a constant state of latent intimidation of anyone pursuing progressive politics or stances. Meantime, the demagoguery and lies from the top continue to rain on the public unabated.—Eds.

Dateline: 3 June 2009

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Dr. George Tiller, a man who exemplified quiet courage informed by high principle. He will be sorely missed by those who work to see a rational and just America.We should all salute Dr. Tiller’s memory.

THE ASSASSINATION OF DR. GEORGE TILLER by a right-wing anti-abortion fanatic is both a personal tragedy and a savage attack on basic democratic rights. It has exposed the pathological state of political life in America and the absence of any commitment to democracy within the country’s ruling elite.

Dr. George Tiller, who wore a bulletproof vest at all times in public, was killed by one shot to the head outside his church on Sunday. He was the medical director of one of the few clinics in the country offering late-term abortions. Sixty-seven at the time of his death, he leaves behind his wife Jeanne, three daughters—two of them physicians—a son, and ten grandchildren. A statement released by the family read, “George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence. We ask that he be remembered as a good husband, father and grandfather and a dedicated servant on behalf of the rights of women everywhere.”

The alleged gunman, Scott Roeder, 51, appeared Wednesday in a Wichita, Kansas, courtroom via video from jail and was charged with one count of murder in connection with Dr. Tiller’s murder. He was also charged with aggravated assault for allegedly threatening two people who tried to stop him.

Roeder has a long record of anti-abortion fanaticism and connections to extreme-right and fascistic organizations. A former envelope factory worker, lately he was doing odd jobs. He has been involved in the anti-tax Freemen movement as well as a group called One Supreme Court, which claimed its members were “sovereign citizens” not subject to federal and state laws. Roeder was well known to the employees of Dr. Tiller’s Wichita clinic, where anti-abortion zealots appeared daily shouting “Killer Tiller!,” “Babies Killed Here!” and “Tiller’s Slaughter House!”

The anti-abortion hysteria personified by Scott Roeder and his murderous actions has been cultivated by a network of religious fanatics, right-wing media personalities, and leading figures within the Republican Party.

Following Dr. Tiller’s murder, Randall Terry, founder of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, described the doctor as a “mass murderer” and declared, “He reaped what he sowed.” He said Tiller would be remembered as “one of the villains of history.”

Bill O’Reilly of Fox News has ranted against Dr. Tiller dozens of times on his talk show, declaring him guilty of “Nazi stuff” and warning ominously that he would face “Judgment Day.”  O’Reilly defended his attacks on Tiller in the aftermath of the doctor’s murder. Dismissing his critics, he wrote, “Every single thing we said about Tiller was true.”

The services provided by the Women’s Health Care Services clinic where George Tiller was medical director are protected by law and have been upheld by the US Supreme Court.

womenneedabortionsb1Before the doctor’s murder last Sunday, his Wichita clinic was one of only three facilities in the US where women, often facing the agonizing decision of terminating their pregnancy after the 20th week due to horrible fetal deformities or the danger the pregnancy posed to their lives, could seek medical assistance. Women from across the country were referred by doctors and hospitals to Tiller’s clinic only to be terrorized—as at other women’s clinics nationwide—by anti-abortion protesters, who hurl obscenities and hold placards displaying grisly photos.

Since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the US, these clinics have been targeted by anti-abortion vigilantes. Doctors and other clinic employees have been wounded and killed in numerous violent attacks organized by members of “pro-life” groups:

• March 10, 1993: Dr. David Gunn was gunned down outside a Pensacola, Florida, clinic.
• Dec. 30, 1994: Two receptionists at two Boston-area clinics were killed, and another five wounded.
• Oct. 23, 1998: Dr. Barnett Slepian was fatally shot in his home in a Buffalo, New York, suburb.
• Dr. George Tiller was himself the victim of an assassination attempt on August 19, 1993, when he was shot in both arms outside his Wichita clinic.

Dr. Warren Hern, a Boulder, Colorado, physician, spoke about the threat exposed by the murder of his friend and colleague. “I’m profoundly sad and I’m furious and I think the American people need to understand that we have a fascist movement in this country,” Hern told the Colorado Independent last Sunday. “We don’t have to invade Iraq to find terrorists. They’re right here killing abortion doctors.”

He struck out in particular at the Republican Party’s exploitation of this campaign of intimidation, which it has utilized as a political prop for decades.

“Dr. Tiller is dead by an anti-abortion assassin, and this is the absolutely inevitable consequence of 35 years of anti-abortion fanatic rhetoric and intimidation and assassination violence and exploitation by the Republican Party of this movement.”

Hern’s forthright description of the political realities underlying this heinous crime stands in stark contrast to the cowardice and complicity of the Obama administration and the Democratic Party.

President Obama issued a mealy-mouthed two-sentence statement on the killing: “I am shocked and outraged by the murder of Dr. George Tiller as he attended church services this morning. However profound our differences as Americans over difficult issues such as abortion, they cannot be resolved by heinous acts of violence.”  [See also related article on Obama at Notre Dame, in our Featured section.]

Like the Democratic Party as a whole, Obama is cowed by these forces. He is unwilling and unable to state the obvious: this noxious combination of political, religious and media organizations is incubating a home-grown fascist movement in America.

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Dr. Tiller was persecuted also by the state, at the behest of rightwing politicians. This is a mugshot from one of these prosecutions (all ended in complete acquital). Ironically, this shot was widely disseminated by one of the nutjob groups that haunted him, Terry Randall’s Operation rescue.

Reprising in a perfunctory manner the theme he presented in his commencement address at Notre Dame University last month, he drew an equal sign between the legally protected rights of women and the medical professionals providing them services and those who would seek to deny them their rights by means of intimidation and, in this case, assassination.

He condemned neither the murderer nor those forces in the Christian right, the right-wing media and the Republican Party who promote such violence.

Like the Democratic Party as a whole, Obama is cowed by these forces. He is unwilling and unable to state the obvious: this noxious combination of political, religious and media organizations is incubating a home-grown fascist movement in America.

These forces bear political and moral responsibility for fomenting violent acts that—outside of the 9/11 attacks—have produced the overwhelming majority of deaths and destruction caused by terrorism within the United States over the past 30 years. Yet they are treated with kid gloves by the political establishment and the media.

Today, demented elements like the Wichita assassin are encouraged to strike at women’s clinics and their personnel. Tomorrow, they can be directed against a movement of the working class against the attacks on jobs and living standards.

The tepid reaction of the Democrats and Obama to the heinous murder of Dr. Tiller underscores the fact that they will only accommodate these fascistic elements, because they are being cultivated by significant sections of the American political establishment.

The defense of democratic rights—including the legal right to abortion—can be carried out only through the independent mobilization of the broad mass of working people, guided by a socialist and internationalist perspective, in the struggle against capitalism and the reactionary political forces that it engenders.

Kate Randall is a senior writer with the World Socialist Web Site.

BONUS FEATURE

CHIP BERLET

Anti-Abortion Violence and the Right-Wing Patriot Movement

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Roeder in a 1998 mugshot. Mentally unstable, uneducated, often in debt and unemployed, besieged by the constant struggle to make ends meet, he had been unravelling since the mid-90s. Roeder and many others like him constitute the prime recruiting grounds for “white trash” losers in this country, a demograp[hic of interest to rightwing groups like the Patriot Militia and similar anti-government “bear-a-grudge” organizations.

Scott Roeder, suspected in the slaying of Dr. George Tiller, and John C. Salvi III, who in 1994 killed two health workers and injured several others in a Boston anti-abortion rampage, share a connection to the right-wing Patriot movement — a collection of groups and individuals with one foot in the anti-tax movement and another in organized White Supremacy.

This overlapping set of alliances goes back over ten years to the height of the armed citizens militia movement which emerged from the broader Patriot movement, a longstanding part of right-wing reality in the United States. Salvi, for example, trained with a militia group in Florida, and came to believe obscure economic and religious theories popular in the Patriot Movement.

Right-wing media demagogues have been quick to exploit this angry constituency by using rhetoric that demonizes not just Obama and the Democrats but liberal ideology itself. By using the tools of fear, irresponsible public figures are cultivating an aggressive constituency comprised of people who feel that militant action is justified, because in their view the Obama administration has shut them out of the political process.

At the height of Militia Movement activity in the 1990s, a number of anti-abortion militants, and conspiracy-minded activists in the Patriot and militia movements began to intersect with elements from organized White supremacist groups, says Fred Clarkson, an investigative reporter who has tracked such groups for over 20 years. In an article for Intelligence Report in 1998, Clarkson wrote:

Many in these previously separate movements agree that everything smacking of “one-worldism” — the Olympics, the United Nations and any other global agency — is part of a massive plot to subject Americans to tyranny. Activists in all three movements describe homosexuals as “sodomites,” people who deserve capital punishment….many of those involved in these groups are bitterly attacking abortion.

According to Clarkson, the “militant anti-abortion movement is driven by three different but overlapping theologies that motivate violence: Christian Reconstructionism, Christian Identity and apocalyptic Catholicism.” Salvi was motivated by apocalyptic Catholicism. It is likely that Roeder was influenced by either Christian Reconstructionism, Christian Identity or some syncretic hybrid of these theological views that have spread throughout the right-wing militant milieu.

More information on the Patriot Movement, Anti-Abortion Violence, Roeder, and Salvi

The election of Barack Obama traumatized whole sections of the U.S. Right. Right-wing media demagogues have been quick to exploit this angry constituency by using rhetoric that demonizes not just Obama and the Democrats but liberal ideology itself. By using the tools of fear, irresponsible public figures are cultivating an aggressive constituency comprised of people who feel that militant action is justified, because in their view the Obama administration has shut them out of the political process.

The anti-abortion movement harbors within it a subculture of militant activists who believe the slogan, “If abortion is murder, then act like it” says Pam Chamberlain, senior researcher at PRA, “For some this means attending demonstrations or engaging in acts of civil disobedience; for others it means committing murder.” Many of these activists are motivated by their religious beliefs, but there are other factors involved as well.

CHIP BERLET is a well-known researcher and author covering civil rights and civil liberties.

3 comments on “The Assassination of Dr. George Tiller
  1. Posted by: Larry | June 3, 2009 10:49 AM

    …and I’m providing the link here to the night before, when Frank Schaeffer, whose father FOUNDED the Right to Life movement and who himself spent most of his life there, spoke with unsurpassed and unchallengeable credibility on this.

    As Sister so accurately noted in another thread, the wars against women and gays, etc., are all tied up with, uh, Christians.

    So many of us seem to have strayed so far from the definition of Biblical Marriage that it’s time, and past time, to let Betty Bowers remind us what Real Marriage — you know, the Christian kind — is all about.

    Posted by: NormaBates | June 3, 2009 11:18 AM

    Not a single one of the comments to the story on Tiller’s murder on that anti-abortion website that regularly condemned him noted why he and other doctors would be performing the so-called “late-term” abortions. Same with the insane Bill O’Reilly. It’s as if these morons believe that a woman decides after about 8 1/2 months of carrying a fetus that, “wait, I don’t want this baby. Doctor, please kill it.”
    No, these clowns would rather — should the baby survive the birth — see a deformed fetus, a baby probably destined for a horrible life existence (but still nurtured by loving, caring Christian parents, no doubt), be born into this world to suffer, as those all around them suffer while they require a lifetime of costly care.

    No, most of the comments I saw were how God decided it was Tiller’s time, or that God worked his magic to end this “baby killer’s” life, and that all things are of God’s plan. Not one person ventured into the realm of how it would be God’s plan for a seriously deformed or severely mentally incapacitated baby to be forced into a cruel hard world, despite having given his creation the knowledge of how to handle such problems.

    Certainly also not considered by these religious wackos: I guess it’s always been God’s plan that it’s OK that a fetus can be developed into where you end up with a birth of conjoined bodies, and where one will die if separated from the other by surgery. These a.a. morons would rather a freak conjoined twin with two heads survive than to surgical separate the entities, which might result in the death of one but survival of the other.

    Also, does anyone know: Does that type of person/people have two souls? Are the two souls conjoined? Do they stay conjoined in the hereafter? Is there adequate seating in purgatory or heaven for the conjoined souls?

    More crazy questions while I’m at it: When a baby dies “naturally” in utero and is miscarried, does its soul get recycled for another opportunity at life? Does an aborted fetus’ soul not get the same second chance? If a baby doesn’t get “to live” outside the womb and learn all about Christianity or Islam or some other of the world’s religions — along with learning about the wackos who turn those religions into some sort of bad joke that causes the sane to question his or her faith — does that baby’s soul not advance in the way our souls on this Earth might, to heaven or hell? Is there an usused baby-soul heaven?

    What does Billy Graham say about it all? I know he says there is sexual pleasure in heaven, so that’s nice.

  2. I guess if it could be proven that these “unborn” humans were destined to become “sodomites” these wack jobs would welcome their termination in vitro.

    Also, re the Berlet article, the ones who have been most betrayed by Obama are not the rightists — whom he has served and cowers before — but the liberal left.

  3. It seems to me that there is a paradox in that the same people who want civil rights and free speech would also like a witch hunt style justice hunting down right wing fanatics. The same civil rights free speech legalities protect in word the rights of all men whether they be liberals or conservatives. It is sad that such foolish acts of violence by fanatics take place, but real freedom should not be sacrificed from fear and intimidation by such people or their very small constituencies. The assassin/terrorists become victorious when their acts accomplish their objective of fear and intimidation.

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