Those of us who have tracked clinic violence over the past two decades have long known of the militant anti-abortion subculture that ebbs and flows with the political moment. There are two factors that are central to this movement. One is that many of them believe in a vast conspiracy to destroy the country and defame God led by liberal secular humanists and other subversive swine like those of us who read Huffington Post. The other is the role of aggressive apocalyptic belief among certain Christians on the Political Right. These folks read the Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins Left Behind series of novels as if it were a roadmap to future history. More than 70 million sold. Christian bookstores, especially on the Internet, are well stocked with Christian conspiracist literature as well as Christian apocalyptic literature. Sometimes they are the same book.
When you combine conspiracy theories that demonize a scapegoat with an aggressive form of apocalypticism, you have a volatile mix--one that throughout history has generated violence and murder. When you add in an intersection with the right-wing populist "Patriot" movement, more heat is added to the cauldron of rage. It appears that Scott Roeder came out of this Patriot movement, as did Eric Robert Rudolph and John C. Salvi, III, who killed and maimed clinic workers not that many years ago.
Apocalypticism is a package of the following beliefs:
- There is an approaching confrontation between good and evil.
- During this struggle, hidden truths will be revealed.
- The outcome will change history in a significant way.
Constructive apocalypticism can produce social movements that seek peace and equality, such as the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.
Aggressive apocalypticism can produce violence, murder, and genocide.
Scholar Carol Mason is the author of Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-life Politics. She has written and essay that makes some important points:
Sunday's murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas raises again the question of what it means to defend life through killing. When militant antiabortionists began bombing clinics and shooting doctors in the 1980s and 1990s, law enforcement officials looked for some conspiracy among the perpetrators. They did not find one. What they needed to look for was a cultural explanation for how members of a movement dedicated to defending life began to kill for life. Dr. Tiller's assassination signals the return of an apocalyptic zeal that has lately been directed elsewhere.
So it is important to understand the power of apocalyptic thinking when it is grafted on top of anger, bigotry, and conspiracy theories that portray named scapegoats. The militant anti-abortion movement sees itself as defending God and country. While less militant anti-abortion activists express their horror at the assassination of Dr. Tiller, others express their delight and consider Tiller's death an act of justice and an offering to God.
According to Mason:
The late twentieth century rise of antiabortion violence grew out of a sense that America was severing its ties to God and all things good. To prolifers, abortion was a sign of national inhumanity and increasing antichristian barbarism. Racist prolifers argued that abortion was a bourgeoning Jewish-engineered industry geared toward a white Christian genocide and praised those who killed abortion providers.
The right-wing media demagogues and pious national anti-abortion leaders can continue to claim they play no role in this deadly dynamic. We can pretend that these aggressive apocalyptic movements don't exist, or are so marginal as to be insignificant. We can continue to pretend anti-abortion violence is carried out by deranged people acting alone.
And if that is how this story gets spun by the commercial media, there will be more phone calls reporting that a bullet has finally found its mark...and there is another funeral to plan by the family of another doctor, or nurse, or clinic worker.