At least that’s how I read this piece, by Slate’s Michelle Goldberg, accusing Republican politicians of “incitement” because of their pro-life rhetoric. She chronicles an alleged increase in violence and threats of violence against Planned Parenthood and then says this:
It’s ludicrous to suggest that this climate of incitement can be separated from a disturbed man shooting up a Colorado Planned Parenthood and then telling police, “No more baby parts.” Certainly, unlike previous anti-abortion murderers, Dear doesn’t appear to be closely tied to the anti-abortion movement. From what we know so far, he seems like an unbalanced loner with a host of right-wing preoccupations (handing out anti-Obama fliers in his neighborhood, ranting online about the end times). But this doesn’t mean he wasn’t caught up in the anti–Planned Parenthood fervor that’s lately been stoked by the right.
In the mid-2000s, a spate of eco-terrorism led the FBI to label groups like the Earth Liberation Front our nation’s top domestic terror threat. Is it “ludicrous to suggest” that the “climate of incitement” caused by non-stop apocalyptic environmentalist rhetoric can be separated from arsons and firebombings? Similarly, Black Lives Matter protestors have been filmed chanting “pigs in a blanket, fry’em like bacon” — echoing the words of a cop-killer. Does that mean it’s now “ludicrous to suggest” that the “climate of incitement” can be separated from any future police attacks? After all, it can’t possibly be the case that only tough rhetoric from the Right incites violence, can it?
Every mass-scale political movement is going to have a fringe. Every single one. And this fringe is so thoroughly corrupt, evil, and (sometimes) crazy that it can be set off by anything or nothing at all. Even assuming the the Colorado Springs shooter claims to be pro-life, he was also accused of being a “peeping Tom.” Who incited the peeps? He was also accused of cruelty to animals. What nefarious cat so alienated the otherwise-peaceful Robert Dear? Famous people tend to get more death threats than average folks. Does that mean their fame — or their performance in the latest Hollywood blockbuster — “incited” violence? Our own Katherine Timpf just received an avalanche of online hate — including bizarre threats — after joking about the lameness of Star Wars fans (I forgive you, Katherine!) Did she “incite” the threats?
If a movement calls for terrorism and organizes for violence, I’ll hold it responsible for its own attacks. When a movement calls for electoral change, specific legislation, and winning over hearts and minds, it’s absurd to blame it for the violence it explicitly rejects.