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The only thing truly surprising about the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas is that it's been so long since the last time anti-choice fanatics have engaged in violence against an abortion provider. Such violence is deplorable, yes, but it should be expected given the constant pressure of violent, eliminationist, and extremist rhetoric which the anti-choice movement is subjected to by its leaders and even many "mainstream" conservatives.
Why do you suppose conservatives are in such denial about the impact their language, rhetoric, and ideas? They certainly can't dispute the extent to which rhetoric and ideas can affect people's behavior — after all, aren't they among the first to complain about how they think American culture is negatively impacted by what people see in movies or hear in music? Aren't conservative Christians among the first to insist that there should be less profanity and sex in the media because its presence "coarsens" American culture?
Just in case someone wanted to argue that this is only a problem when it comes to godless, liberal matters, conservative Christians are also very vociferous in calling for increased public expression and promotion of Christianity — especially when sponsored by the government. Why would these conservative Christians be so vehement in their belief that the government should erect Ten Commandments plaques and monuments everywhere, sponsor school and government prayer, fund faith-based programs, and so forth unless they believed that the constant presence of Christian rituals, symbols, and ideas would have an impact on people's beliefs and behaviors?
So conservative Christians in America definitely believe that the constant presence of the "wrong" ideas and images can negatively impact impressionable people, and they definitely believe that the constant presence of their own ideas and images can positively impact impressionable people. The only excuse they could possibly have, then, is that their ideas and images could never have a negative impact on people — that their ideas and images could only ever have a positive impact on everyone.
Of course, that presumes that killing an abortion provider is bad and these anti-choice activists rarely say anything that suggests they believe this. They may condemn the murder of George Tiller in vague language, but they often go on to say how glad they are that he's dead and/or how he's responsible for what happened to him. I really don't think that this excuse can be treated as credible, assuming that anyone tried to get away with using it, but that leaves us without even a weak excuse for why the extreme rhetoric of anti-choice activists would not be complicit in anti-choice violence.
Part of the problem in my mind is that it's the relative absence of violence which seems to be more in need of explanation, not the occasional outburst of violence. Let's ignore the bulk of extreme anti-choice rhetoric and focus on a single, basic, and common anti-choice claim: abortion is murder. If people really, sincerely believed this, why aren't they acting like it?
If you saw adults walking children into a "death camp" to be murdered, would you be content to just hold silent protests outside the killing chambers or outside the homes of the killers? If you knew that thousands of young children were being killed every year, would you be content to wait for politicians to ban it? Would you even be satisfied with taking action against a single killer who specialized in eliminating older children while ignoring many more killers who eliminated infants and toddlers?
None of that would make sense. Only a tiny fraction of the anti-choice movement acts like they truly believe that abortion is murder: those who engage in a lot of direct, non-violent intervention and those who actually take violent action. Those who merely apologize for or try to justify violent action are little more than posers and cowards — people who might like to see violence, but don't have the personal or political courage to act on the beliefs they are promoting (though I'll bet they hope to profit from others acting on them).
Of course, the anti-choice movement does a lot more than calmly say "abortion is murder." The anti-abortion rhetoric goes much, much further in the demonization and dehumanization of abortion providers, ramping up the emotional reaction to abortion and hatred of those involved. They have done everything possible to ensure that their audience doesn't treat "abortion is murder" in a purely intellectual manner; instead, the rhetoric is clearly designed to encourage strong emotional reactions which people will act upon — and the only sort of reaction we should reasonably expect in this context is active, direct, and often violent.
Yet there is still so little violence, relatively speaking. Even if we include actions like putting glue in locks and spreading "Baby Killer" flyers in neighborhoods where clinic workers live as "violence," there is still little in the way of violence that is proportional as a reaction to the sincere belief that "abortion is murder." I don't mean to dismiss or underestimate how much pressure and stress abortion providers have to live with; instead, I'm pointing out how little anti-choice activists really believe what they are saying because this may help explain why they are so vehement and extreme in their rhetoric.
First, the extremist rhetoric may be an attempt to convince themselves of something that they have trouble believing and accepting — they are unable to regard a pregnant woman walking into a clinic as the equivalent of a mother carrying an infant into a clinic, so the extremist rhetoric is necessary to arouse the negative emotions that would be there automatically otherwise. If they really did believe that abortion is murder, they wouldn't need to go to such lengths to demonize abortion. No one goes to equivalent lengths to demonize Nazi concentration camps — a simple description is more than enough to create a moral and emotional revulsion at what happened.
Second, and more importantly, I wonder if the extremist rhetoric is also deliberately designed to incite and inflame unstable people so that they will take the violent action which some anti-choice leaders wish would occur and which they are unwilling to engage in themselves. To what extent do they wish there were more anti-abortion violence and are too cowardly to do something on their own, yet are nevertheless willing to encourage others to take violent action instead? There is a lot of history in America of such rhetoric leading to violence, assassinations, and even riots, so they know what the effects of their language is likely to be.