Last year, in the aftermath of a shooting that critically injured U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford, the news cycle and American politicians entered a protracted debate on the relationship between militant rhetoric and acts of violence. USA Today asked, "Has the nation's harsh political rhetoric become more than just talk — to the point of being dangerous?"
Some Democrats said yes, referencing an image that appeared on former Governor Sarah Palin's website that featured cross hairs over 20 congressional districts. Representative James Clyburn (D-SC) argued that miltant political rhetoric might incite "people who may not be clicking on all cylinders" to violence.
Conservative spokespeople bemoaned the "politicization of a tragedy" and made the case that Gifford's shooter--Jared Loughner-- was mentally unstable rather than motivated by political ideology. Unfortunately, by this time conservative bloggers had also jumped on the finger-pointing bandwagon, attempting to paint Loughner as a radical leftist, if anything.
The conversation finally subsided but the damage had been done. It is doubtful that anything fruitful came from that discussion, and everyone who tried to score political points came out looking worse than before.
Now, it seems that a similar conversation is starting.
Francis Grady, who is accused of firebombing a Planned Parenthood clinic in Wisconsin, recently appeared in court. At one point during the hearing, Grady interrupted the Judge to ask, "Do you even care at all about the 1,000 babies that died screaming?" Later, Grady told reporters, "I'm here to do good and not wrong."
Following Grady's court appearance, chatter picked up on the liberal blogosphere. Grady has been branded an "anti-abortion terrorist" and his actions are being described as the natural outcome of conservative rhetoric on abortion. Pro-life organizations ought to feel complicit in this violence, we are being told.
This time, I'm inclined to think the bloggers might be right. Here's why:
Those who wish to outlaw abortion altogether frequently compare Abortion in America to the Holocaust, and this is hardly a fringe sentiment. Eric Metaxas, former Veggietales writer and author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, is as about mainstream as conservative Evangelical Christians come. A couple of months ago, Metaxas gave the keynote address at the President's National Prayer Breakfast. During his speech, Metaxas tacitly implied that abortion is a modern day equivalent of slavery and the holocaust, and afterwards went so far as to compare the Obama administration's contraceptive mandate to Germany's pre-Holocaust policies. Again, this is not fringe stuff. Metaxas is a widely respected conservative figure.
A large plurality if not a majority of Americans, I would have to guess, are ready to join Metaxas in glorifying Bonhoeffer's involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. The Holocaust is, after all, often brought up as the ultimate trump card to pacifism: "Oh come on, you're telling me you wouldn't kill Hitler if you had the chance?" Plenty of people imagine that they would turn to violence in the face of the most atrocious genocide in human recollection. Violence would be perfectly acceptable if not honorable in those circumstances.
So for those who genuinely believe that American abortion is the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, why would firebombing a Planned Parenthood not be considered an appropriate course of action? Why would someone hesitate to damage a little bit of property in resistance to the most horrendous evil that can be imagined? Can we really say that Grady's alleged actions are the doings of a radical lunatic lacking any mainstream moral guidance?
Only time will tell whether or not Grady will be deemed mentally unfit to stand trial, but in this case I think that the bloggers are right. Violence against abortion providers or facilities that perform abortions is hardly a great departure from the ethos instilled by pro-life rhetoric. Pro-life conservatives can no longer speak of abortion as a nation-wide systematic murder equivalent to the Holocaust without being considered at least somewhat complicit in the violence committed against abortion providers and their facilities.