False shepherds, lost sheep
In his response to my March 11 commentary “God and fools,” Joseph Kimpflen stated “pro-life crusaders, overall, are among the least violent people you will ever find passionately advocating a cause.” Perhaps the qualifying “overall” is meant to minimize or dismiss the not-so-few extremist pro-life advocates who have engaged in violence and/or threatened pro-choice advocates and medical personnel with violence.
In a 1998 article, G. Davidson Smith, of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, states there are three categories of “Single Issue Terrorism” in the United States and Canada: animal rights, environmentalism and abortion. According to the pro-choice organization NARAL, between 1993 and 2016 in the U.S. and Canada, anti-choice activists have murdered 11 people including physicians, clinic employees, a clinic escort, a security guard and a police officer.
Between 1977 and 2015, anti-choice extremists orchestrated more than 7,200 reported acts of violence against abortion providers including 42 bombings, 185 arson attacks and thousands of death threats, bio-terrorism threats and assaults. In addition, there were more than 234,000 acts of disruption including bomb threats, hate mail and harassing telephone calls. In a July 2020 publication the National Abortion Federation reports a “disturbing escalation of intimidation tactics, clinic invasions and other activities” in 2019 aimed at disrupting abortion services.
Perhaps the most dangerous anti-abortion group is the Army of God (AOG), characterized by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) as a “network of terrorists who believe violence is an appropriate tool for fighting against abortion.” The AOG handbook provides detailed instructions on how to sabotage abortion clinics, use gun silencers and C4 explosives, noting “we are forced to take aim against you … execution is not gentle.”
Terrorism expert G. Davidson Smith states that “for the most part, legitimate organizations disown violent fringe exponents. Some, however — notably in the context of environmental and abortion issues — actively support the militants, or do so tacitly by failing to condemn extremist activities.”(emphasis added).
Regarding the Capitol Building riot, Mr. Kimpflen states, “Those to blame for the violence are those who commit it.” They certainly are to blame. However, the decision to engage in violence (with the exception of those mentally ill) does not occur in a socio-cultural vacuum. Rather, decisions are reached based on what individuals read, see and hear from others, especially people they admire and respect.
Sociologist W.I. Thomas (1863-1947) coined the term “definition of the situation”: If you define a situation as real, it will have real consequences for your behavior. As Fr. James Martin stated, prior to the Capitol Building riot, untold thousands of Catholics had been informed by Catholic priests, bishops and a cardinal that the Democratic Party was the “party of death,” baby killers via abortion. Some of the faithful decided to act upon this clergy-sanctioned definition of the situation and stormed the Capitol Building. As Fr. Martin noted, these individuals “felt they were doing something holy,” acting to prevent an evil man, Joe Biden, from becoming president.
The problem is not the sheep (sincere, peaceful pro-life advocates) but some of the shepherds. The strident doctrine of hate by the latter incites and legitimizes the irrational and emotionally unstable, who are outnumbered by their peaceful brethren but numerous enough to engage in violence.
We take it for granted clergy members can influence people to make good decisions. Why is it so difficult to accept that clergy can also influence some individuals to make bad decisions?
Mr. Kimpflen notes “The one exception” to blaming only those individuals who commit violent acts “may be the orator, who, there on the spot, deliberately eggs the violent on.” One does not have to be present to incite people to commit violent acts. If that was the case, there would be no such thing as “lone wolf terrorists,” individuals who receive a steady diet of hate-filled messages via pamphlets, books, online videos and social media — and, as a consequence of these messages, engage in horrific acts of violence.
Mr. Kimpflen states, “It is telling that the authors apparently could not find a single quote employing both pro-life rhetoric and ‘stolen election’ rhetoric.” Consider the following:
Online firebrand preacher Joshua Feuerstein (who once claimed Starbucks was adding fetuses to its coffee) stated a number of years ago, “I say … we punish Planned Parenthood. I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life.” Speaking of then-President Trump, Feuerstein tweeted, “Mr. President, you have 100 million armed patriots in your corner. Say the word.” The night before the Capitol Building was stormed, Feuerstein spoke at a Washington, D.C., rally where he said the presidential election was a fraud. He concluded his presentation proclaiming, “It is time for war. Let us stop the steal.”
At that same rally, Ken Peters, former pastor of Covenant Church in Spokane, Washington, who organized disruptive protests outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, implored the crowd to rise up against Satan and the “stolen” presidential election. “I see a bunch of people here who say, ‘No, we are not going to allow the enemy to destroy this great land that our forefathers gave us.'”
Most people are not aware of how dramatically abortion rates have declined in this country over the past 40 years. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 1981 (eight years after the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision) there were 29.3 induced abortions per 1,000 women between 15 and 44 years of age, a figure that dropped to 16.3 in 2012 and 13.5 in 2017, the latest available data.
Washington Post columnist David Von Drehle states this decline is a consequence of women having more autonomy over their bodies and easy access to a variety of birth control methods. Fewer unwanted pregnancies means fewer abortions. Von Drehle notes that one side of the abortion divide chooses life, the other chooses freedom. “The good news is we can choose both: more freedom and fewer abortions. The first one leads to the second.”
Mr. Kimpflen writes, “In an effort to get us past all this hostility I offer a new slogan: ‘Black Lives Matter — born and unborn.'” I agree. My guess is that on some of the issues raised in my commentary and his response, Mr. Kimpflen and I are not as distant in our respective views as it appears.
George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.
“Anti-Abortion Violence” (accessed 2021) NARAL Pro-Choice America, www.prochoiceamerica.org
“Army of God” (2012) National Archive for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, http://web.archive.org
Blacklock, J. (Oct. 5, 2015) “Lone Wolf Terrorism: Leaderless Resistance,” Patrick Henry College, www.phc.edu
“Induced abortion in the United States” (September 2019) Guttmacher Institute, www.guttmacher.org
Mehta, H. (Nov. 29, 2015) “Joshua Feuerstein: Let’s Punish Planned Parenthood; Abortion Doctors Must ‘Be Afraid for Their Life,'” Friendly Atheist, www.friendlyatheist.patheos.com
“NAF releases 2019 violence and disruption statistics” (July 2020) National Abortion Foundation, www.prochoice.org
Smith, G. Davidson (winter 1998) “Single Issue Terrorism,” Flipbook, www.fliphtm15.com.
Vestal, S. (Jan. 13, 2021) “Pastor who organized anti-abortion rallies in Spokane helped rally Trump supporters in D.C.” Spokane Spokesman, www.spokesman.com
Von Drehle, D. (March 16, 2021) “Opinion: The Anti-Roe v. Wade movement is increasingly disconnected from facts,” The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com