The murder of abortion provider George Tiller should force a re-assessment of the Department of Homeland Security’s maligned report on “right wing extremism.”
I was thoroughly dumbfounded at the conservative reaction to that report in April. If you read the report, it was quite clearly aimed a serious, violent, insane extremists. Yet mainstream conservatives took great offense, accusing the Obama administration of chillingly targeting the free-speech of conscientious anti-abortion citizens, veterans and conservatives writ large..
Conservatives should have said, “Here! Here! We applaud the efforts to clamp down on terrorism, crime and extremists.” After all, most conservatives have nothing to do with, and deplore, violent extremists. Instead, by saying the report was an attack on conservatism in general, the conservatives — not the government — blurred the lines between the violent extremes and the conservative mainstream.
Now, it turns out that the man in custody on suspicion of assassinating Tiller, Scott Roeder, had been arrested back in 1996 on criminal use of explosives and had connections to an extremist anti-government militia group, the Freeman: On April 17, 1996, Associated Press reported:
“Roeder was stopped because his car didn’t have a legitimate license plate. Instead, it had a tag indicating the driver was a “sovereign” citizen and immune from Kansas law. The same type of tag is sometimes used by Freemen, whose members in Montana are in the fourth week of a standoff with federal agents.
Roeder’s name is included on an FBI list of Freemen, said Shawnee County Sheriff Dave Meneley.
In Roeder’s trunk, authorities found fuse cord, a pound of gunpowder and two nine-volt batteries, one wired to a switch – the alleged triggering device. Ammunition and a blasting cap also were found in the car.”
In other words, we’ll have to wait on the details on both cases but at first glance Roeder seems exactly the sort of person that the DHS warned about.
The report suggested that the bad economy and the election of a black president could stimulate more anger and activity from “violent anti-government groups.” Far from attacking anti-abortion activists in general, as many claimed, the report instead noted white supremacists’ “longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion.”
We’ll see if Roeder maintained his ties to the militia groups or had shifted his focus to abortion only, but at a minimum, conservatives have to make a new choice: take seriously right wing extremists — the real ones, not the bloviators — or run the risk of truly being lumped together.
In a way, conservatives now face a choice similar to what liberals in the late 1960s and early 1970s faced during the hayday of the Weather Underground. Some on the New Left defended them as legitimate-albeit-excitable members of their broad coalition, while other more traditional liberals attacked them as extremists who violated liberal ideals. My sense of the history is that enough on the New Left defended extremists to tar all of liberalism. Will that happen for conservatives now?