Sons of Terror

For a while, it looked like assassin Scott Roeder might get away with murder. His defense lawyer Mark Rudy tried to get the charge reduced to manslaughter. Roeder’s victim, Dr. George Tiller, had been threatened and slandered for decades for providing late-term abortions to women at his clinic. Rudy continued along the same lines.

Rudy tried to convince the jury that Roeder was a martyr for a righteous cause. It took them less than an hour to find him guilty.

One of the most outrageous aspects of the defense argument was a comparison of Scott Roeder to the late Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

During closing arguments earlier Friday, Rudy urged the jury to reject the murder charge, saying, “no one should be convicted based on his convictions.”
Rudy mentioned leaders who stood up for their beliefs, including civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. They were “celebrated individuals (who) stood up and made the world a better place.”
“They leave their marks based on their words and deeds,” Rudy said.

Is our collective memory so short that we could forget that King, like Tiller, was murdered by an assassin’s bullet? Have we forgotten that King was a leader of nonviolence, in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi and America’s own Henry David Thoreau? Was the jury supposed to overlook that fact that Roeder had broadcast his convictions all his life protected by the first amendment– that he was on trial because he sneaked up on an unarmed man and shot him in church? That the deed for which he will be remembered is the cowardly murder of a doctor, father and grandfather in front of his family and friends?

But following the logic of the anti-abortion movement, Roeder’s action makes sense. Real life is full of trouble and difficult moral choices. If you believe that the woman concerned is best able to make that choice you will not be trying to make abortion illegal. You might organize support services for women with a crisis pregnancy, you might use persuasion, you might counsel young men on responsibility and respect for women. You might support education and availability of contraception.

The anti-abortion movement, as opposed to individuals who have moral objections to abortion, has taken an extreme stance, declaring that women who have abortions and doctors who perform abortions are committing murder. By this logic, Roeder was acting consistently.

“I don’t condone what Scott Roeder did, but I cannot condemn the consistency of his logic,” said Randall Terry, a founder of antiabortion group Operation Rescue. “George Tiller killed 60,000 innocent human beings in barbaric ways, and Scott felt the way to protect more babies from a grisly death was to kill Tiller.”

The anti-abortion movement is not the first extremist group to claim a moral stance to justify violence and terrorism. All of them do. Roeder’s spiritual home is not the Civil Rights movement, but the Ku Klux Klan.

At times the women’s Klan sought to portray itself as an organization of social work and social welfare. One national WKKK speaker announced that she left social work for the “broader field of Klankraft” because of the Klan’s effectiveness in promoting morality and public welfare. Many chapters claimed to collect food and money for the needy, although these donations typically went to Klan families, often to families of Klan members arrested for rioting and vigilante activities. A powerful Florida WKKK chapter operated a free day nursery, charging that Catholic teachers had ruined the local public schools.
Some WKKK chapters ran homes for wayward girls. These homes served two purposes: to protect the virtue of Protestant women who were tempted by a life of vice and to underscore the danger faced by delinquent girls placed in Catholic-controlled reform schools.
‘Women of the Klan’, by Kathleen M. Blee

Most members of the Klan did not directly commit acts of violence. The Klan was not seen as a terrorist group. They infiltrated government, church and law enforcement. They claimed to answer to a high moral standard and to protect the innocent. Their violent rhetoric allowed the assassins among them to hide in plain site, uttering threats and spreading terror in the name of free speech.

When speech did not suffice, there was the gun. That is the truth behind the rhetoric of the anti-abortion extremists today…

The Rev. Donald Spitz, of Chesapeake, Va., who runs the Army of God Web site supporting violence against abortion providers, said the rejection of that argument has upset those who view Roeder as a hero.
”I know there is not a lot of good feeling out there — everybody is pretty angry,” he said.
Spitz was the spiritual adviser to Paul Hill and was with him at his 2003 execution for the killing of a Florida abortion provider and a clinic escort in 1994, an event that led to a lull in violence at abortion clinics. While saying he knows nothing of impending plans by others against abortion doctors, Spitz scoffed at suggestions that Roeder’s conviction will have a similar effect.
”Times change,” Spitz said. ”People are not as passive as they have been. They are more assertive.”

When argument fails, there is the gun. Terrorism is most effective when it disrupts the most with the least violence. When armed militias claiming to be the only true patriots march in plain sight, not even bothering with hoods, it’s sure that individuals will decide to embrace martyrdom.

Martin Luther King loved his life and his family. He led Americans who had been deeply wronged in a movement of nonviolent resistance.

Good people can disagree. Dr. Tiller was murdered in church, where he served as an usher. Anti-abortion activists don’t represent all Christians. Abortion is not an easy moral issue. People of conscience who oppose abortion can aid women in need and children in poverty, they can use their freedom of speech to persuade, they can vote as they choose. They should reject the criminals who are using this issue to continue the tradition of domestic terror in the name of patriotism.

UPDATE: A convicted arsonist and shooter is promising more violence in emails from prison.

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2 thoughts on “Sons of Terror

  1. Sometimes attorneys need to make what appear to be absurd arguments. Sometimes we just don’t have a lot to work with. So it is here.

    That said, I share your sense of outrage as to the desperate attempt to link Roeder and his violent act with Dr. King and the SCLC. The differences are well explained in your post.

    It’s in instances like this that I’m reminded of a little noted book written by then Justice Abe Fortas many years ago entitled “On Civil Disobedience and Civil Disorder.” One is a time-honored necessity in a free and democratic society. Those who commit acts of civil disobedience do so to test the law. They stand ready to work within the legal system. And because they are ready to work within the legal system, they stand prepared to accept the legal consequences of their disobedience if their test fails.

    So, like Thoreau who would rather go to jail rather that pay taxes to support what he considered an immoral and illegal war, so do all those who practice the ideals of civil disobedience in the cause of a higher moral and legal principle. It is this disobedience that tests the parameters and validity of the law. Without Rosa Parks, Dr. King, and countless others who marched, rode and sat at lunch counters, our lives, our communities and our country would be seriously diminished.

    On the other hand, we have Mr. Roeder. He had no interest in testing the law and abiding by the results of that test. He’s a thug who, in the instance that he took up the gun, became the law. No matter his motive, whether noble or ignoble, in the end he was a thug with a gun. He placed himself above all of us – knowing best, knowing more, having a heightened sense of his own importance. No post rationalization of his act can disguise who he is, what he did, and why he did it.

    The movement led by Dr. King was important not because it was non-violent, but more so because it worked within the system. By so doing, it showed respect for the fabric of laws and institutions that help bind us as a community.

    The movement that spawned Roeder and his ilk have no respect for the system. They are thugs with guns and bombs – using intimidation and violence to get what they otherwise can’t achieve in the courts, the ballot box, or the court of public opinion.

    In the end, Dr. King was a positive force seeking a better society. For his efforts he was taken from us by a thug with a gun.

    It is not merely ironic, but obscene that some 42 years later, Dr. King would be used in another context to give some legitimacy for the acts of another thug with a gun.

  2. Thank you Geoff. I hope that since Mark Rudy threw the kitchen sink into the defense there will be no argument for an appeal.

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