Suspect Is A Wingnut

By last night a number of rightie bloggers were bristling with outrage that anyone would assume Dr. Tiller’s murderer was an anti-abortion activist.

This morning I see that the person who has been accused of the murder — let’s not forget the presumption of innocence — was an anti-abortion activist.

Peter Slevin and Robert Barnes write for the Washington Post that the accused man, Scott Roeder, “is known in anti-abortion circles as a man who believes that killing an abortion doctor is justifiable.”

As news of Roeder’s arrest traveled, Kansas City activist Regina Dinwiddie remembered the day a dozen years ago when Roeder hugged her in glee after trying to frighten an abortion provider by staring him down inside a Planned Parenthood clinic.

“He grabbed me and said, ‘I’ve read the Defensive Action Statement and I love what you’re doing,’ ” Dinwiddie said in a telephone interview. She was a signer of the 1990s statement, which declares that the use of force is justified.

“I said, ‘You need to get out of here. You can get in a lot of trouble,’ ” Dinwiddie recalled.

Dinwiddie said she does not consider death of Tiller, the nation’s most prominent provider of controversial late-term abortions, to be a homicide.

Another anti-reproductive rights activist, described Roeder as “anti-government” and recalls Roeder had visited Rachelle “Shelley” Shannon, convicted of shooting Dr. Tiller several years ago, in prison.

Also, in May 2007 Tiller’s place of worship was identified on the Operation Rescue website, with the suggestion that people go there and “ask questions” (i.e., harass) the pastor and church members. Dr. Tiller was killed while handing out bulletins in the church’s lobby.

Today rightie bloggers are bristling with outrage at the suggestion that hate speech they and others have flung at Dr. Tiller over the years had anything whatsoever to do with his murder. Little Lulu:

Every mainstream pro-life organization has unequivocally condemned the killing.

I repeat: Every mainstream pro-life organization has unequivocally condemned the killing.

To me, this is akin to giving a known pyromaniac a can of gasoline and a book of matches and then denying you meant for him to start a fire. Condemning the act after it has occurred does not whitewash one’s complicity in it.

Malkin also is amused that so many of us are calling the murder of Dr. Tiller an act of terrorism. “Interesting how the t-word has been rediscovered,” she says. Malkin, you might recall, was at the forefront of the right-wing hysteria campaign against the recent Department of Homeland Security report to federal, state and local law enforcement regarding the threat of terrorism from right-wing extremists groups.

Malkin bristled with outrage at the suggestion that people such as, for example, anti-abortion activists might be capable of violence, and called the report a “hit job” on conservatives. Seems that it’s Lulu who needed to rediscover the “t-word.”

Today many people are focusing on Bill O’Reilly’s long and highly visible crusade against Dr. Tiller. It’s one thing to declare that one is opposed to third trimester abortions; it’s another thing to lie about them. O’Reilly said this on his radio program last year:

Now, a guy in Kansas, George Tiller, OK, can kill a baby — kill a baby — a half-hour before the baby’s supposed to be birthed for no reason whatsoever other than the mother has a pain in her foot. OK? Mother’s health: pain in the foot, migraine headache, whatever it may be.

That’s an outright lie. Kansas law allows no such thing. O’Reilly can tell one lie after another on radio and television, and call it “journalism,” and there appears to be no way to stop him from doing so as long as his employer, Rupert Murdoch, approves of it.

However, I sincerely hope Dr. Tiller’s heirs take O’Reilly and Murdoch to court and sue their socks off.

This nation has a deep commitment to free speech without government censorship. One of the few values Left and Right hold in common is the right of someone to say any damnfool thing he likes without penalty of law. About the only exception is where personal injury is involved. Many other western democracies place some limits on what people can say when it might incite violence, or sometimes just because — literature denying the Holocaust is banned in some places. I don’t want to go that way.

However, maybe it’s time we revisited libel laws. As a rule journalists — including faux journalists like O’Reilly — have little to fear from libel lawsuits, because the plaintiff has to prove “actual malice.” Publishing or broadcasting an untruth, even when it causes harm, is not necessarily libelous if the defendant can claim it was an innocent mistake. Of course, O’Reilly’s been in “reckless disregard for the truth” territory for some time. Perhaps we need to clarify exactly how far a public mouthpiece can go before he wanders into the litigation zone.

Update: See also “O’Reilly’s campaign against murdered doctor” at Salon.

But there’s no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller’s name first appeared on “The Factor” on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O’Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as “Tiller the Baby Killer.”

Tiller, O’Reilly likes to say, “destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000.” He’s guilty of “Nazi stuff,” said O’Reilly on June 8, 2005; a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida, he suggested on March 15, 2006. “This is the kind of stuff happened in Mao’s China, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union,” said O’Reilly on Nov. 9, 2006.

23 thoughts on “Suspect Is A Wingnut

  1. Changing libel laws is an interesting idea. It would have to be carefully done, though, so as not to infringe on 1st Amendment rights.
    But it would be interesting to see what would happen if blaring out incindiary opinions over the air COST people and companies, instead of making them milliions of dollars.

  2. I’m not a lawyer, but my understanding is that before the New York Times v. Sullivan case in the early 1960s, I think, media often were sued for libel. Reporters do make honest mistakes, and sources do pass on bad information, so when the Sullivan case made a distinction between an honest mistake and “reckless disregard for the truth,” it was hailed as a great boon to journalism. And it is, really.

    As I understand it — I’m not an expert in this area — being careless about fact checking is not “reckless disregard.” The plaintiff has to prove the defendant had “actual malice” and intended to cause harm. It’s hard to prove intention. Someone like O’Reilly can spew out lies and inflammatory rhetoric and claim he didn’t intend for Dr. Tiller to be murdered. And I suspect O’Reilly didn’t intend for Tiller to be murdered. His real intention was to shut down his clinic.

    On the other hand, how is it that someone with a national megaphone like O’Reilly can lie, demonize, and spew out hate speech against someone over a period of years and not have “actual malice”? Even if he didn’t intend for Tiller to be murdered, it still seems damn reckless to me.

  3. “His real intention was to shut down his clinic.”
    I don’t know whether this is true or not. His real intention was probably to get and drive ratings.
    I think all of the talkers on TV and radio have to continually ‘take it up a notch’ to continue to maintain and increase their ratings. And so their musings get wilder and wilder (I”m not even sure how much of their own BS a lot of them believe. They’re like money making rats on a wheel – if they stop, so does the money). They skirt the libel laws every day, and count the proceeds every night.

  4. c u n d gulag — yes, that’s a good point. The question is, how long can someone like O’Reilly hand out matches and buckets of gasoline to pyromaniacs and then claim he didn’t intend for them to start a fire?

  5. Tiller’s murder is just the first in what will be a long wave of home-grown terrorism. And it won’t just be abortion that will be targeted either.
    We need to classify these terrorist’s in the same group as the brown ones.

    BTW – if this guy is convicted, will he be sent to a “Super-Max?” If so, then we must be admitting that the Christian God is not as powerful as the Muslim one, since theirs can apparently aid them in escaping our best efforts at confinement.

  6. c u n d gulag,

    > BTW – if this guy is convicted, will he be sent to a “Super-Max?” If so, then we
    > must be admitting that the Christian God is not as powerful

    I think thats already proven(if thats what it takes). IIRC, Eric Rudolph, another christian religious nut, is in Super-Max for doing the same crime and more.

  7. “O’Reilly can tell one lie after another on radio and television, and call it “journalism,” and there appears to be no way to stop him”

    Oh he can be stopped, I predict some leftwing-nut will stop him eventually, although left wing wackos never seem as violent as their right wing counterparts. I wonder why?

  8. I predict some leftwing-nut will stop him eventually

    I sincerely hope not, but I think it’s unlikely he’ll meet the same fate as Dr. Tiller.

  9. One of the few values Left and Right hold in common is the right of someone to say any damnfool thing he likes without penalty of law.

    Not true. Recall how the right constantly wants to put away lefties for saying anything they consider treason. “Liberals should be shot” in other words. These people have a huge psychological desire to squelch any viewpoint (and the people espousing them) other than their own. It’s an understatement to say they’re really into conformity.

    I’ve been in airport bookstores a lot lately and have been seeing Censorship: The Threat to Silence Talk Radio, by Brian Jennings and Sean Hannity. It’s all about the possible resurrection of the Fairness Doctrine. These people are terrified that any other viewpoint than their own will begin to confront the garbage these haters spew daily.

    I’m not a legal expert, but it’s in this space where realistic discussions of “what can we do” can begin. I’ve read lawyers explain why libel is so difficult to prove.

    Sara Robinson wrote a great piece on the meaning and impact of Tiller’s murder here.

  10. Wasn’t there a successful conviction of anti-abortionists under the RICO statute some years ago? The existence of the so-called “Defensive Action Statement” certainly suggests there’s a specific agreement among anti-abortionists to commit and encourage acts of violence.

    And, not that this is news to anyone, but Malkin is flat-on-her-ass lying when she says the mainstream anti-abortion orgs have unequivocally condemned this murder. Mostly they are silent, and that doesn’t count as condemnation; it counts as cowardice.

    Yesterday afternoon on NPR, a reporter from the Wichita Eagle said he contacted the head of Operation Rescue, “and he [the unnamed anti-abortionist leader] was just speechless,” the reporter said. Wow. Speechless. No condemnation there.

    If Randall Terry is still the head of Operation Rescue, we can interpret “he was just speechless” to mean “he giggled inappropriately.” I’ve personally heard Randall Terry do so in radio interviews, and it made my skin crawl.

  11. IIRC, Eric Rudolph, another christian religious nut, is in Super-Max for doing the same crime and more.

    What you’ve forgotten is that Eric Rudolph was on the run for a few years before the Feds caught up with him. He was hiding in remote regions of the South, and was aided in evading capture by a great many residents of the area.

    Also, people sometimes forget the extent of Rudolph’s violence: he attacked not only women’s clinics but a gay bar… and the Olympic Games. He timed some of his explosives to go off so they would kill or maim first responders to the initial bombing. And American citizens hid this guy from justice for years.

  12. Joanr16,

    > And American citizens hid this guy from justice for years.

    Another example of Right wing Jesus loving southern values. These guys(supporters) are worse than the so called real terrorists(Islamist Fundies) as they are given a platform by media, society and a large political party.

  13. With ‘fighting words’ there is a distinction made between advocacy of ideas and incitement, though I believe that is criminal cases. You’d have to prove that O’Reilly intended for someone to kill Tiller. He, in fact, incited someone to violence. I’m not sure how being a journalist would play into this, and proving the intent has to be something beyond spurring someone to violence. It’s difficult to prove. I believe our free speech/first amendment guidelines worked well, as long as society was fairly sane overall when most people followed some type of internal restraint. I don’t believe it was meant for the type of things we’re seeing these days.

  14. Great article on Commondreams detailing how violence against abortion providers correlates with the occurrence of pro-choice people in power:

    Today’s assassination of Dr. George Tiller comes 5 months into the term of our second pro-choice president. For anyone who would like to believe that this is a statistical anomaly, a coincidence that doesn’t portend anything, again, you are wrong.

    During the entire Bush administration, from 2000-2008 there were no murders.

    During the Clinton era, between 1994-2000 there were 6 abortion providers and clinic staff murdered, and 17 attempted murders of abortion providers. There were 12 bombings or arsons during the Clinton years.

    During the Bush administration, not only were there no murders, there were no attempted murders. There was one clinic bombing during the Bush years…

    In the last year of the Bush administration there were 396 harassing calls to abortion clinics. In just the first four months of the Obama administration that number has jumped to 1401.

  15. Moonbat,

    That is an interesting assessment you posted. It really infers that the pro-lifers are more concerned about the popularity of their beloved republican party than they are in the lives of the unborn. Once again the wing-nuts exhibit extreme hypocritical behavior, go figure!

  16. Every mainstream pro-life organization has unequivocally condemned the killing.

    I repeat: Every mainstream pro-life organization has unequivocally condemned the killing.

    Yup. Every mainstream Democrat and liberal unequivocally condemned the attacks of Sept. 11 too. Didn’t stop Little Lulu and her buddies from calling us objectively pro-terrorist America-haters who should be detained, jailed and in some cases shot and/or hung.

    Doesn’t feel so good now, does it, you little rage machine?

  17. Malkin professes concern for Tiller’s family:

    Tiller’s family is grieving. Those who have jumped to score political points before Tiller is even buried are no better than the Phelps family thugs of the “Westboro Baptist Church” who respect no bounds of civility.

    I wonder if she’s aware that the statement the family released about Tiller’s murder includes sentiments such as the following (from the story on Yahoo news):

    The family said its loss “is also a loss for the city of Wichita and women across America. George dedicated his life to providing women with high-quality health care despite frequent threats and violence.”

    Sounds kind of political to me. How tasteless! As Malkin says herself:

    Unfortunately, some are not content to leave it at that for now. They fail to respect that there is a proper time and place to indulge in political battle.

    Yes, of course. The day after an abortion doctor is murdered is precisely the wrong time to talk about threats of violence against abortion doctors.

  18. Another example of Right wing Jesus loving southern values.

    You know, I want to believe better of people, I really do, but the various components of the above demographic just keep on disappointing me.

  19. I applaud you for steering discussion about the Tiller murder to a constructive vein.

    I think moves to increase civil liability or limit free speech will be ineffective for reasons previously discussed. But look at the issue in a reverse frame. This idea would require a new law from Congress, which is possible in light of the tragedy. Call it the Tiller Act. Suppose I could apply to the court for ‘anonymity’. This legal status, once granted, would make it against the law for any publication or web site to broadcast my name, my home address, work address or that of family &/or associates. No ‘Tiller Watch’, such as Operation Rescue had.

    Also, allow a business to be able to apply for the same status; if granted, the location of a clinic could not be broadcast, a clinic could not be picketed. Any trespasser would get ONE warning, further incursions that exhibit a deliberate pattern to violate the status of ‘anonymity’ – mandatory jail time. The ‘legal’ harassment tactics would come to a screeching halt. Put serious teeth into the law, mandatory jail time, and stiff fines for individuals and sponsoring organizations, plus the opportunity for a victim to sue in civil court.

    Thus Dr. Tiller becomes for O’Reily, ‘an unnamed abortionist in Kansas’. Anything more specific and he broke the law. Let him be as inflamatoroy as he wants, just so he can’t point a finger at a specific person.

    The status of anonymity should not be granted by the court to a public figure, politician, actor, sports figure, anyone who has sought or by virtue of his work is in the public eye.

    This solution would not be airtight, but it could be very effective. I don’t think for example that Tillers court case in Kansas earlier this year could not properly be kept out of the media. Web sites could be raised out of US jurisdiction, but if those web sites are used to raise funds FOR an organization in the US, the assets of those organizations would be subject to seizure.

    The fact is this. Roe v Wade is not going away; Obama will get a total of 2, maybe 3 SC justices. The right-to-life crowd is not going to fold, so they are going to use terrorism when they have no chance in court.

    I would LOVE to have someone like Glenn Grenwald write this; it would be effective and hold up in court. The focus of the act would not be to inhibit free speech but to grant privacy, and some measure of security where your line of work makes you a target for bombs & bullets. I’m not a lawyer; this is just a first draft of an idea. Comments from some of the smart people here?

  20. Doug,

    That’s a great idea; I’ve always been amazed how court proceedings are allowed to turn into tabloid fodder (FAUX loves to sensationalize any court case that involves sex, children, etc.). Just because a person is charged with a crime, why should his or her entire life be destroyed by the media before a verdict is rendered?

    If I were the family of Dr. Tiller I would be hiring an Army of lawyers to go after FAUX and specifically Bill O’Reilly. And since he has chosen to be a public figure I would not feel hypocritical to joyfully watch the bad press ruin his life (although I suspect it would probably help his ratings, the idiots that watch the factor would see it all as a left wing conspiracy).

  21. joanr16,

    >You know, I want to believe better of people, I really do, but the various
    > components of the above demographic just keep on disappointing me.

    I think we all do and then reality sinks in. Facts just cant be refuted. Of course not everyone is going to fit this mold but a good majority does qualify.

  22. There are no “pro-lifers”. There are anti-abortionists, but being “pro-life” is quixotic at best, usually hypocritical, and always absurd.

    The stark hypocrisy of “pro-life” murder should be obvious to all but the idiotic and/or ideological. It reveals that the real argument is not “pro-life” versus “pro-choice”, but guns versus abortion. The actual issue under discussion is; shall killing be permitted prenatally or postnatally? It is a city-versus-country dispute over a detail of timing.

    There are other compromises with necessity; self-defense, capital punishment, defensive war. They may be justifiable, but they are by definition not “pro-life”, except in the Orwellian sense.

    There are no pro-lifers because there is no free lunch. In the absence of infinite wealth, people must pick and choose whom to help and whom to deny, sometimes even in matters of life and death.

    Take Dr. Tiller’s patients. He treated the hard cases, the obstetric disasters, the doomed pregnancies fated to yield dead baby or dead mother or both. In such cases, there does not exist a “pro-life” medical option; late-term abortion is the least bad choice.

    These sorts of bad choices happen all the time. They’re natural, they’re built into the world. If God exists, and created such a world, then God is certainly not a pro-lifer. Therefore it is folly for mortals to call themselves “pro-life”; for that would be to claim moral superiority over God and Nature.

    I say we should retire the phrase “pro-lifer”. There are none.

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