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Piecing Together the Murder of Dr. George Tiller: Right-Wing Violence Rears Its Head

Tiller was the target of vicious on-air attacks by Bill O'Reilly. Could the murderer have been inspired by O'Reilly's rants?

Dr. George Tiller, one of the few OB-GYNs in the country who performed late-term abortions despite ongoing threats to his safety, was fatally shot yesterday while attending a church service in Wichita, Kan. Scott Roeder, 51, has been detained for questioning.

Roeder -- a registered Republican previously arrested for having bomb materials in his car -- posted this chilling message on an Operation Rescue Web site called Charge Tiller in 2007 ( via the Daily Kos):

It seems as though what is happening in Kansas could be compared to the "lawlessness" which is spoken of in the Bible. Tiller is the concentration camp "Mengele" of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgement upon our nation.

Tiller had long faced the threat of right-wing violence. The Tiller Women’s Health Clinic clinic was bombed in 1985; in 1993, Tiller was shot in both arms by abortion protester  Rachelle Shannon . The heavily fortified clinic was guarded by a private security team, and Tiller relied on a bodyguard outside of work.

Recently, Tiller had aired concerns about his safety to federal investigators. The Associated Press reports:

[Tiller's Attorney Dan] Monnat said Tiller had asked federal prosecutors to step up investigations of vandalism and other threats against the clinic out of fear that the incidents were increasing and that Tiller's safety was in jeopardy. [Wichita Deputy Police Chief Tom] Stolz, however, said police knew of no threats connected to the shooting.

In early May, Tiller had asked the FBI to investigate vandalism at his clinic, including cut wires to surveillance cameras and damage to the roof that sent rainwater pouring into the building.

Tiller had also long been the target of vicious attacks by conservative pundits like Bill O'Reilly, who often denounced Tiller on his show. Brad Reed writes on Brad Blog following Tiller's acquittal in March on charges that he had broken a Kansas abortion law:

O'Reilly continued his series of programs focusing on the Kansas physician, charging him with "operating a death mill" ( video here), and alleging that he was "executing babies" ( video here).

O'Reilly had previously been highly critical of the state's Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, charging, during his "Talking Points" commentary in 2007, that she was "allowing [Tiller] to continue the slaughter."

Writing for Salon, Gabriel Winant argues that O'Reilly's vicious slander of Tiller may well have served as a provocation for the shooting. Although O'Reilly certainly did not instruct his listeners to commit violence:

... there's no other person who bears as much responsibility for the characterization of Tiller as a savage on the loose, killing babies willy-nilly thanks to the collusion of would-be sophisticated cultural elites, a bought-and-paid-for governor and scofflaw secular journalists. Tiller's name first appeared on The Factor on Feb. 25, 2005. Since then, O'Reilly and his guest hosts have brought up the doctor on 28 more episodes, including as recently as April 27 of this year. Almost invariably, Tiller is described as "Tiller the Baby Killer."

Tiller, O'Reilly likes to say, "destroys fetuses for just about any reason right up until the birth date for $5,000." He's guilty of "Nazi stuff," said O'Reilly on June 8, 2005; a moral equivalent to NAMBLA and al-Qaida, he suggested on March 15, 2006. "This is the kind of stuff happened in Mao's China, Hitler's Germany, Stalin's Soviet Union," said O'Reilly on Nov. 9, 2006.

O'Reilly has also frequently linked Tiller to his longtime obsession, child molestation and rape. Because a young teenager who received an abortion from Tiller could, by definition, have been a victim of statutory rape, O'Reilly frequently suggested that the clinic was covering up for child rapists (rather than teenage boyfriends) by refusing to release records on the abortions performed.
When Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline, an O'Reilly favorite who faced harsh criticism for seeking Tiller's records, was facing electoral defeat by challenger Paul Morrison, O'Reilly said, "Now we don't endorse candidates here, but obviously, that would be a colossal mistake. Society must afford some protection for viable babies and children who are raped." (Morrison ultimately unseated Kline.)
This is where O'Reilly's campaign against George Tiller becomes dangerous. While he never advocated anything violent or illegal, the Fox bully repeatedly portrayed the doctor as a murderer on the loose, allowed to do whatever he wanted by corrupt and decadent authorities. "Also, it looks like Dr. Tiller, who some call Tiller the Baby Killer, is spending a large amount of money in order to get Mr. Morrison elected. That opens up all kinds of questions," said O'Reilly on Nov. 6, 2006, in one of many suggestions that Tiller was improperly influencing the election.

Despite ongoing threats of violence and constant right-wing media attacks, Tiller continued running Tiller’s Women’s Health Care Service, one of just three facilities in the country providing access to abortion after the 21st week of pregnancy.