First off, an editorial consideration: the last time a scribble indirectly dabbled in abortion and race the shit hit the fan like a fanatic orangutan with a crop duster but no Pepto-Bismol. From that experience I have not learned that I should not be even scribbling about such emotionally charged issues in the first place, in part because I am by nature a stubborn person, but mostly because it has long been a cherished belief that to elicit a passionate response is generally an indication of doing good work. That said, if I am reaching out exclusively to a certain segment of the population, then I am being a bad writer. This blog is admittedly pretty liberal. But I would regard myself an amateur with written-off irrelevance if I only pissed off some of the people all of the time; far better would it be to piss off all of the people some of the time. For then, at least occasionally, I must be getting something right. Not that pissing people off is my intention; I am not a provocateur. (Actually, I’d like to consider myself a fairly nice guy, who despite a lot of weird stuff was given good manners.) I personally have no interest in taking up a controversial topic for controversy’s sake — I will leave that kind of dare-devil skullduggery to the stirring pots of schlock-jock op-eds and braggadocio bloggers. For me the point is to take up a controversial subject unflinchingly when its moment arises. If I fail to reach out with a requisite amount of tact or only pretend to see things from the opposing perspective so as to seem more reasonable or circumspect, then I am genuinely sorry and I ask that you accept my apology. In this scribble, as in many of my endeavors, I seek only to speak truth to power, and if I happen to piss off anyone, let it be them — those whose vested interests see living things as commodities and codify justice with dastardly and bastardized double standards.
We read biographies and fiction from exotic lands so different from our own in part because in spite of the superficial or circumstantial distinctions, the truth of one experience manifests something universal in all of us. Or as Bruce Cockburn sings, “To be one more voice in the human choir/ rising like smoke from the mystical fire of the heart.” I take this to be self-evident. But I suspect I would probably have a harder time making the case that “what’s good for Delaware is good for everyone!” or “as Idaho goes, so goes the U.S.” (No disrespect to those who live in either Delaware or Idaho, but, you know…) As it happens, my abode and adopted home is here in Wisconsin (with equal measures of Thank God! and God help us all!), and dang it all if there ain’t been a heckuva lot of stuff happening here donchaknow! One could go so far as to posit that the badger has become the new canary in the coal mine (or the iron ore one, as the case might be). From the austerity plans of state budgets to redistricting to so-called voter fraud to making it that much harder for women to receive comprehensive healthcare, the badger state has become a kind of bellwether for post-2010 midterm election America, the play-date for the tea party. (It’s just that ours, misbegotten by ALEC and Koch Industries, looks uglier than a hodag and is as bloatedly hungover as a cheesehead after the Packers-Lions game on Thanksgiving.)
The nationwide attacks on women are no less at the forefront here in Wisconsin as anywhere else. In the last year alone, during the 2011-12 legislative session, we have born sore witness to countless scoundrel bills where the GOP politics of so-called small government has done more to interfere with the inner lives of women than any kind of Red Scare socialism ever could. From defunding Planned Parenthood to meddling in doctor-patient relationships to ending fair pay for women, the state Republicans have gone out of their way to recalibrate their agenda from fiscal crisis and job creation to outright culture war. Not that Gov. Walker went out of his way to draw attention to his signing these bills into law. Indeed, he did so last week under the political cover of darkness (which seems fitting for shady legislation anyway). Unlike the usual dog-and-pony spectacle of staging a location and selecting a coterie to cheer him on under the paparazzi of the press – photos snapped, close-up shots, pens given away as gifts – Walker signed the dotted line with no hoopla and did so before a holiday weekend, in case nobody was paying attention.
Only a week before that another not entirely unrelated event occurred with equal subtlety but explosive consequences. A man named Francis Grady of Outagamie County, Wisconsin, just outside of Green Bay, deployed a bomb in a window of the Fox Valley Planned Parenthood facility in the town of Grand Chute. The result was a small fire inside the building; no one was injured. The incendiary in question was an improvised explosive device, or IED. That name should ring a bell, as it is the sabotage of choice by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of US soldiers have been wounded or killed by IEDs since 2001, when the war on terrorism began. The media has drummed into our heads that if you’re Taliban, you’re a terrorist. If you’re al-Qaeda, you’re a terrorist. Jihadists are terrorists. People who detonate IEDs are terrorists.
Unless you’re a crackpot whose holy war is saving the lives of the unborn. Then you’re just an arsonist. But also a hero to your cause.
Francis Grady is only the latest in a long line of extremists since 1976 – only three years after Roe – who have set fire to or bombed clinics, blocked and barricaded access to them, sent anthrax letters to doctors, and injured or murdered individuals associated with reproductive health (in some cases innocent bystanders). Since 1993 eight people have been killed by pro-life extremists (irony, anyone?), not to mention the many attempted murders of clinic staff and physicians (or anyone who happens to be there at the time for whatever reason, since, contrary to popular belief, places like Planned Parenthood are not abortion factories, but actual medical centers where women and men receive healthcare treatment for such hot button topics like mammograms and pap smears and prostate cancer screenings).
(For further information on the history of violent acts against doctors and clinics, including statistical lists, see here. Creepily, some of the many attacks have occurred on Christmas days, which cannot be coincidental, of course. Because nothing better embodies yuletide cheer like a Molotov cocktail thrown through a window. And what could be more appropriate when celebrating the birth of baby Jesus than murdering an obstetrician to point out that murder is wrong?)
A personal note: one of the shootings listed on the link above was in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1994. A man named John Salvi shot and killed two receptionists and wounded at least five others, all clinic staff or volunteers. I remember when that happened. And I really remembered it when three years later my then girlfriend at the time and I happened to go to the very same clinic so that she could be fitted for a diaphragm. It was the summer of 1997 and we were living in a four-floor walk-up in Boston. I was 20 and positively petrified of pregnancy. In addition to mandating myself to wearing a condom, she agreed to use a diaphragm (which, in conjunction with a cold tube of Nonoxol-9 is about as sexy as, oh I don’t know — but it ain’t, at all; in fact, it’s rather like listening to Barry White on a scratchy record player backwards). Three years after the shooting, however, there were still two police officers guarding the set of double doors. You had to have had made an appointment and then show identification before being let in, and even then it was all very tense and unnerving. Three years after the violent act, still with armed guard, but still not considered “terror.” Then what the hell is, if not constantly afraid that some horrible thing might happen at the least expected moment to the least deserving people?
The last abortion provider to be murdered was also one of the first who was originally shot, Dr George Tiller of Wichita, Kansas. In August 1993 he was shot and injured by a woman with a previous record for arson and butyric acid attacks. In May of 2009, Dr Tiller was shot in the head at point blank range while at church by a man with a prior background in antigovernment activity and possession of bomb-making supplies in the trunk of his car up to and including ammunition, a blasting cap, a fuse cord, a 1-lb. can of gunpowder and two 9-volt batteries. But apparently belonging to an antigovernment group, possessing the wherewithal to make a bomb, and assassinating someone in cold blood still is not enough to constitute labeling someone a terrorist – even in our post-9/11, 24-hr news cycle, terrorism-saturated world.
Or take for example the case last year, in Madison, where a man was arrested after he accidentally fired a gun in his hotel room. Almost one year ago, a man by the name of Ralph Lang had the full intent of going on a merciless shooting spree in the Madison Planned Parenthood facility. Because he accidentally fired off his weapon in his hotel room beforehand, he was apprehended and sentenced with attempted first-degree intentional homicide in addition to federal charges of attempting to injure, intimidate, and interfere “with persons participating in a program and activity receiving federal financial assistance.” This man was on a politically motivated vendetta to kill in the name of a cause; but still he is not considered a terrorist.
But do you know what will slap a sentence of terrorism on you faster than a Texas jury ruling in favor of the death penalty? Releasing minks from a fur farm. Or setting fire to an unowned SUV. And the penalties are stiff. In addition to being rendered a terrorist (albeit an “ecoterrorist” – funny how Big Oil or Natural Gas or Monsanto are never considered guilty of ecoterrorism), you will be facing some serious penitentiary time — in one man’s case, life imprisonment, for arson. Life imprisonment for arson!?! While it is absolutely true that automobile dealerships and forestry companies, corporate and university-based medical research labs, medical-supply firms and fur farms, fast-food restaurants, and other industries have been continually targeted by environmental extremist groups such as Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Earth First!, and Earth Liberation Front (ELF), the fact of the matter is that not one single human being has ever been injured in a so-called ecoterrorist attack. No one injured, no one murdered. Furthermore, the number of vigilante and vandalism acts have been on the wane in recent years, as Juliet Eilperin reports in The Washington Post. Yet despite all this, the FBI ranks the animal rights and radical environmentalism movements as the most worrisome forms of domestic terrorism in the United States. Not people like Timothy McVeigh, not wacko militias or Waco compounds, not white supremacists or the KKK or the Army of God or any pro-life extremist sympathizers who have murdered and injured in addition to causing millions of dollars in property damages. Nope; they’re just fringe. But if you go undercover as a journalist in Iowa to investigate animal feedlots and factory farms in the name of muckraking for animal rights, you could be arrested; and if only by association you will be smeared as an ecoterrorist. For reporting on conditions in chicken pens = terrorism. But colluding with others under the banner of God and politics while taking people’s lives or blowing up buildings — apparently you must believe in Allah for that to be rendered terrorism. (For more on Iowa and such “ag gag” laws, see here.)
What gives? Why are you a terrorist if you spike a redwood tree from being chainsawed in the name of environmental protection and sustainability against corporate greed, but you’re just an ordinary criminal if you light a bomb in a Planned Parenthood window or are caught before going on a killing spree as a form of protesting the act of abortion? By the FBI’s own definition — “a terrorist incident is a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, in violation of the criminal laws of the United States, or of any state, to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” — so-called pro-”life” extremists should be sentenced as terrorists. But aren’t.
Is it that for-profit private property is more important — or more important, is backed by lobbyists with influential campaign contributions — than the sanctity of life, born or unborn? We have moved past the age-old adage of what to some is deemed terrorism to some is seen as fighting for freedom to others. It’s quantitative, not qualitative. The double standard calls to my mind the different sentences for powder cocaine and crack cocaine that until recently caused a glaring riff with clear-cut racial overtones: crack, which was more prevalent in African-American populaces, carried a 5-year minimum sentence when in possession of 5 grams, whereas the powder version — which is essentially the same damn stupid thing, but more used by whites — required 500 grams, which is to say 100 times the amount, for the same 5-year sentence. To be sure, this was recently rectified at long last, but the disparity had been on the books for years.
So if a watershed is polluted, an estuary paved over, a mountaintop removed, or a tree is logged in an old growth forest and no one is there to hear it, it’s economic growth. And if a building is bombed while people are there, it’s a tragedy, sure, but nothing to catch the attention of the FBI. But if an SUV in a car lot is lit afire, irrespective of anyone to hear it or see it or be the least bit injured by it, it’s terrorism.
It should be no surprise that political passions persuade people to take up extreme tactics. Not unlike anarchists and libertarians having a couple core beliefs in common (their disdain for the State), it is understandable that far-left liberals and far-right conservatives sometimes resort to similar measures, at least in attitude if not deed. (Hardly comparable are freeing ferrets and killing a secretary in a clinic.) But while they are mustered together by an outlook of radicalism, they are completely sundered by a radical outlook of the justice system that both perceives and sentences each in wholly unequal and incomprehensibly disproportionate terms.
Maybe when test-tube babies or fertility clinics or stem-cell research labs are bombed or blazed by radical pro-lifers will they be considered terrorists. While they murder real life human beings in the name of theology, they are off the hook. But America watch out for those crazy cooks against off-shore oil drilling or fracking; they’re more dangerous than Islamo-fascists, who are more dangerous than communists, who are more dangerous than the Indians, who are more dangerous than the British, who are more dangerous than the original tea partiers. Et cetera. It reminds me of a Dave Chappelle skit on which I will close out this scribble:
Thanks for reading!