Who incited Christian terrorism? Not me. Couldn’t be.
In what could be the greatest head-spinner of the season, Christianist Republicans—from presidential candidates to congressmen to Fox News bimbos to sleazy video-splicers and wild-eyed sidewalk ranters-with-rosaries—are scrambling to deny that their words actually matter or have any real world influence.
Rest assured, they say, we had nothing to do with any shooting rampage at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs . Cough. Baby killers. Cough. Body parts for sale. Cough, cough.
To those of us on the outside, the relationship seems clear. Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains which was targeted in the CMP video hoax has experienced the terrorizing first hand: “We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months. That environment breeds acts of violence.”
Even Ben Carson managed, somehow, briefly, to put two plus two together. “There’s no question the hateful rhetoric exacerbates the situation,” he said on Face the Nation. But Laura Muzyka called Carson “sorely misinformed” and then, ironically, underscored his point by tacking on some hateful lies of her own. “The only thing that’s extreme is Planned Parenthood’s desire to see abortion without restriction through all nine months of pregnancy while they capitalize off dismembering preborn children and parting them out for sale.” She added that, “No one in the pro-life movement ever calls for violence in return.” [italics mine]
No one calls for violence?! A claim like Muzyka’s is possible if one buys into a “No True Scotsman” argument that anyone calling for violence is, by definition, not a part of the pro-life movement. True, most calls for violence against clinics and providers are veiled, but some have been pretty darn explicit. Here’s one from Popular Facebook evangelist Joshua Feuerstein (who has 1.8 million followers): “Planned Parenthood has hunted down millions and millions of little innocent babies, stuck a knife into the uterus, cut them, pulled them out, crushed their skull with forceps, ripped their body apart, sold their tissue, and threw them bleeding into a trash bin.I say, tonight, we punish Planned Parenthood. I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life.”
Here’s another from Troy Newman who was recently denied entry into Australia because the government feared he would incite violence there. According to Newman, the only way to purge “community bloodguilt” and protect America from God’s wrath about abortion is the “lawful execution of the murderers, which is commanded by God in Scripture.” (Newman is the head of Operation Rescue and was endorsed by Ted Cruz just days before the Colorado shooting.) In fact, anti-abortion fanatics have made so many violent threats against clinic staff and patients that Drexel Law Professor David Cohen and colleague Krysten Connon recently published a whole book of them: Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism. A clinic worker recently tweeted what it’s like to live with this on a daily basis.
But if we are to believe the Republican talking heads, all of this is irrelevant to the eruption of violence.
- “This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing the messenger because they don’t agree with the message. Anyone who tries to link this terrible tragedy to anyone who opposes abortion or opposes the sale of body parts is … this is typical left-wing tactics.” – Carly Fiorina
- “It’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist. If that’s what he is, I don’t think it’s fair to blame on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.” –Ted Cruz
- “It was absolutely unfathomable.” “I don’t know of any pro-life leader — any — if you can tell me one, please correct me — but I don’t know of anybody who has suggested violence toward Planned Parenthood personnel or some act of violence towards their clinics. I’ve not heard that, not from one single pro-life person.” – Mike Huckabee
- “It’s a tragedy. It’s, I think, a mental health crisis,” – Rep. Michael McCall, R-Texas
Never you mind that conservative Christians in high places have been fanning flames for months, calling women and care providers murderers, pretending to believe Planned Parenthood kills big-eyed babies and sells body parts for profit. Never mind that we call such language “incendiary” because it is incendiary. They are shocked-shocked-I-say, that some wingnut in Colorado actually took their becking at face value and opened fire in a family planning clinic. Who could have possibly known that all that posturing and lying for political gain might affect someone’s behavior?! Uh, I mean, it didn’t! It couldn’t. It was just talk!
Did anyone other than the guilty parties themselves fail to notice the bizarre irony here? The people now hastening to assure us that talk doesn’t matter are people who earn big salaries talking. We refer to them as talking heads because that’s what they do, day in and day out, month in and month out. Talk, talk, talk. Why? Because they (and the folks who bankroll them) are betting that words actually matter.
Those most carefully denying any relation between talk and murder are politicians who spend years speechifying in order to change voter behavior, assisted by well-paid communications experts who make the big bucks because tweaking words slightly might affect what voters do. They are pulpit pounders who siphon off 10 percent of churchgoer earnings on the premise that by talking to and for God they can influence beliefs, attitudes and behavior. Talk can save souls. In fact, in the Iron Age mythology of the Bible, it can bring whole worlds into existence. In the beginning was the word.
But a bloodbath incited by mere words? Stochastic terrorism? A crazy lone wolf who reacts predictably to the fear and fury of the pack? Words erupting into violent action and reaction? Words shattering into the staccato of gun fire, into screams of terror and anguish? Words slurring into the soft gurgle of the dying? Couldn’t be.
Someone should tell America’s politicians, ad men, preachers and campaign consultants to pack up and get jobs where they actually have some influence. If, as they claim, they’re not capable of getting one crazed wingnut among millions to pick up a gun and open fire after months of professionally crafted goading and millions of dollars of airtime, they don’t deserve their big salaries.
Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org. Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including AlterNet, Salon, the Huffington Post, Grist, and Jezebel. Subscribe at ValerieTarico.com.