Rachel Maddow: Right-Wing Terrorism Must Be Stopped

The tactics of anti-choice extremists are designed to change policy by terrorizing Americans. How do we stop them from committing violent acts?

Editor's Note: The following is an edited version of a transcript from the Rachel Maddow Show.

We begin tonight with another deadly act of domestic terrorism. The first time a doctor was murdered by the modern anti-abortion terrorist movement in America was March 1993.  Anti-abortion demonstrators were protesting at a clinic in Pensacola, Florida.  As Dr. David Gunn arrived at a clinic, a young man named Michael Griffin shot Dr. Gunn several times in the chest with a snub-nose .38 revolver.

Michael Griffin, the killer, became a cause celebre among anti-abortion extremists.  He was associated with the group called Rescue America, which said after Griffin killed Dr. Gunn that while they did not condone the killing, they didn‘t condemn it either.

Five months after Dr. David Gunn was killed, another doctor, George Tiller—yes, the same Dr. Tiller from today‘s headlines—was shot by a woman named Shelly Shannon.  Shannon had written letters of support for Michael Griffin, who killed Dr. David Gunn.  She called him a hero.

In 1992 and 1993, Shelly Shannon set fires and used acid to attack at least 10 abortion clinics in Oregon, California, Idaho and Nevada.  In 1993, she went to Wichita, Kansas, and used a semiautomatic pistol to shoot Dr. George Tiller in each of his arms outside the clinic at which he worked.

While she was in prison, Ms. Shannon signed on to a pledge of support for Paul Hill, the murderer of yet another American doctor.  In June 1994, Paul Hill shot to death Dr. George Britton and a 74-year-old clinic escort named James Barrett, and he seriously wounded Mr. Barrett‘s wife.

Six months later, a man named John Salvi walked into two clinics in Brookline, Massachusetts, and killed two receptionists and wounded five other people.  In January 1998, yet another murder—security guard Robert Sanderson was killed and a nurse named Emily Lyons was critically injured by a nail bomb that exploded at an Alabama abortion clinic at which they worked.  That bomb was planted by a man named Eric Rudolph.

Eric Rudolph had also bombed another abortion clinic and a gay bar in Atlanta the year before and he had famously bombed the Atlanta Olympics the year before that, killing Alice Hawthorne and wounding 111 other people.  The Atlanta Olympics bombing was a terrorist act committed by an anti-abortion extremist.

In October 1998, another murder—in Amherst, New York, Dr. Barnett Slepian was standing inside his house when James Kopp shot and killed him with a sniper rifle.  Kopp was a member of an anti-abortion extremist group that calls itself the Lambs of Christ.

And [last Sunday], George Tiller was shot again.  This time, it was inside his church in Wichita.  He was killed instantly.  A man named Scott Roeder is the suspect in custody in this case.  He‘s known in extremist anti-abortion circles.  He has had writings published in a newsletter called “Prayer and Action News,” which promotes the idea of killing people who provide abortion services as justifiable homicide.

Someone calling himself Scott Roeder had participated in anti-abortion discussion at a Web site of the group called Operation Rescue.  The group‘s founder, Randal Terry, spoke at the National Press Club today and celebrated Dr. George Tiller‘s death.

RANDALL TERRY, FOUNDER, OPERATION RESCUE:  I stand before you today saying about George Tiller what I said in his life.  He was a mass murderer.  George Tiller was a mass murderer.  He killed tens of thousands of innocent human beings at his own hand.  George Tiller was a murderer and he was doing something that was literally demonic.

RACHEL MADDOW:  Another anti-abortion extremist group, Operation Save America, also put out a statement celebrating George Tiller‘s murder today, saying, quote, “He is now vowing before Jesus and confessing that Jesus is right and that he, George Tiller, was wrong.”

If you go to the Web site of the Army of God, you will find hagiographic websites for anti-abortion terrorist movement heroes, like Paul Hill and Eric Rudolph and Shelly Shannon.  You can actually scroll through pages and pages of mug shots and descriptions of bombings and shootings and murders and attempted murders—all praising the perpetrators, and even suggesting ways to get away with the same types of crimes that these people committed but you could do it without getting caught.

On their front page today—there‘s Dr. George Tiller, just murdered, under the caption, “The lives of innocent babies scheduled to be murdered by George Tiller are spared by the action of American hero, Scott Roeder.”

There‘s an anti-abortion terrorist movement in the United States that operates relatively openly.  They advocate and their members commit acts of violence, including murder, against Americans who are not breaking the law, who are engaged in protected legal activity on American soil.

These acts of violence are politically motivated.  They are designed to change American policies and to terrorize Americans.  They have succeed in making providing abortion services to American women so dangerous, so intimidating that there are only a handful of doctors in the entire country who provide late-term abortions—as Dr. Tiller did—abortions late in pregnancy.

In other words, this terrorism is working.  Violence as a political strategy is working to make abortions so unsafe for doctors that they are unwilling to bear the risk of performing it so women can‘t actually get one regardless of whether or not it‘s legal.  It‘s the same outcome as if abortion had been outlawed.  They‘re winning.

What‘s the strategy to stop them?

Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of constitutional law at George Washington University.

Professor Turley, thanks for joining us tonight.


MADDOW:  I‘m making these observations politically just as a citizen, but I wanted to ask you tonight if it‘s legally appropriate, legally useful, to approach this problem as terrorism?

TURLEY:  Well, in some cases, it is.  You know, some of these past cases have elements of terrorism.  Rudolph is a good example of that—although, you know, he was not just anti-abortion, he was anti-homosexual.  He was sort of at war with the world.  And that makes this definition a little more difficult.

Some of us, particularly on the civil libertarian side, are uncomfortable with using the terrorism label because, you know, the Bush administration expanded this definition to the breaking point.  I testified not long ago in Congress of how the Bush administration would classify what were rudimentary criminal cases as terrorism cases and use these laws against them.

The problem we have, as you know, is to deal with lone actors like this.  I don‘t believe that the man who killed Dr. Tiller was a classic terrorist.  I think that he was a murderer.  He assassinated him.

But I don‘t see the elements of an organized terrorist plot.  And in many ways, he‘s the most dangerous thing that we face.

I think the Clinton administration got this right when they really saw the danger as the McVeigh type—this lone actor who goes out there, who may be fueled by rhetoric, but who‘s acting alone.  In this case, it looks like he targeted this very doctor who had been demonized by many.

MADDOW:  To the extent that there is a movement that this man saw himself as part of, and I spent a lot of time in very dark corners of the Web today looking at the websites and publications ...


MADDOW:  ... of the organizations that identify themselves as part of this movement.  Famously in the 1990s, there was a statement put out in support of one of the people who was found guilty of killing an abortion provider, saying, “We, the undersigned, believe these actions to be justifiable” and encourage others to do them because—in order to save the unborn.

To the extent that there is something beyond the loner, the lone murderer here, to the extent that there is a rhetorical association, there are organizations that support this sort of thing, does it give law enforcement any additional tools to consider them while they prosecute this crime?  I‘m with you on the civil libertarian concerns about these things -- freedom of association, freedom of the press are to be protected, freedom of speech are to be protected at any cost -- but are there law enforcement tools that would be useful in these cases to acknowledge those ties?

TURLEY:  There are, Rachel.  I mean, you have the FACE Act, which protects access to abortion clinics.  There have been prosecutions under that.  It was upheld by courts.  And you also have standard prosecutions for intimidation.  In fact, the FACE Act has intimidation as one of the elements.

So, there are ways to prosecute.  The FBI‘s done a very, very good job, you know, for many years now at focusing on these domestic organizations.  But as you‘ve already noticed or referenced, we have this difficult line to walk between free speech and preventive law enforcement.  And it all—that line is often found on violent speech.

And the Supreme Court said in the Brandenburg case that violent speech is protected.  In fact, I‘ve represented people accused of violent speech, including terroristic speech.  And that is a very difficult line, because it is, in fact, protected, to say all abortion doctors should be killed.  And what the Supreme Court said was that we have to look where that violent speech raises an imminent threat of violence, and then, you can prosecute that person.

But it‘s obviously a very difficult line to walk.

MADDOW:  And it‘s an intelligence matter, oddly, as well.  We think of intelligence in terms of where our—in terms of where the dividing lines are within our own government about the tools that are available to people who work for the U.S. government.  That‘s an important distinction between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for example.

We collect intelligence on foreign bodies.  In terms of what we do domestically to disrupt homegrown terrorist plots, to disrupt criminal enterprises, to break up organized crime in these efforts, there‘s—I mean, there‘s civil liberties concerns, there‘s also strategic concerns about how these things can be done legally on American soil.

TURLEY:  Yes, but I would also caution though is that no matter what we do—we‘re probably never going to be able to stop the lone actor, the McVeigh, or the individual today, without becoming a totalitarian regime.  I mean, lone actors are dangerous because they don‘t come up on the radar screen.

What we‘ve learned—ever since cases like Brandenburg—is speech isn‘t the problem.  In fact, you want them to speak.  You want the speech to be protected so they come up on the radar screen and you can watch them.  And the FBI has a long history and a very effective history and a commendable history of following these dangerous groups.

But we can‘t do what we‘ve done in the past and say, “Because there was an attack, our system must not be working.”  I think we have to accept that, unfortunately, we‘re not going to be able to protect against all attacks.  And this guy represents the greatest vulnerability in the law and in terms of law enforcement.

The guy who‘s out there, you know, some dark corner, filled with hate, against the world, and he takes it upon himself to personify it into one person—we may not be able to stop that.  And efforts to try to stop that, I think, are going to likely be fruitless.

But the reason I appreciate what you‘re saying is that you‘re very mindful that we walk this careful line ...


TURLEY:  ... in protecting speech and looking for that speech that presents imminent threats.

MADDOW:  And looking for the—yes, exactly, protecting our constitutional values, protecting the reason that it matters that we have an America, as opposed to any other country, but also taking these threats to security seriously.  It‘s what we‘ve been talking about in all of these different contexts for eight years now.

Constitutional law professor, Jonathan Turley, thank you so much for your time tonight. It‘s really helpful.

TURLEY:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  In the context of an extremist anti-abortion movement that has seen the murder of seven abortion providers and clinic workers in a five-year period during the course of the ‘90s, that saw another doctor shot by a sniper in his own home in the late ‘90s, a movement that publicly, openly celebrates the people who have killed these doctors as heroes—what should we make of it when figures in the media denounce other doctors already targeted by these groups as Nazis, as killers, as people with blood on their hands?

Back in April, the Department of Homeland Security was lambasted by conservatives for publishing a report on the potential for violence from right-wing extremist groups.  It was the Bush administration that had actually commissioned the report and they had done one on the potential for violence from left-wing groups, too, but that did not stop conservatives from getting very, very angry about that report.

At least three Republican members of Congress, Michele Bachmann, John Carter, and Michael Burgess said that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should resign for having issued that report.  Republican Minority Leader John Boehner said that report meant that Napolitano had an awful lot of explaining to do.

That report actually warned for the potential for violent behavior from far right-wing groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion.  DHS got even more specific in March, warning about, quote, “antiabortion extremism” groups and “sovereign citizen movement” such as a group called the “Freemen.”

We know now the man who is the chief suspect in the killing of Dr.  George Tiller was reportedly associated both, with extremist anti-abortion groups and with the sovereign citizen movement known as the Freemen.

Still think Janet Napolitano ought to resign for that outrageous warning about guys like Scott Roeder?


BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  Tiller the baby killer out in Kansas, acquitted—acquitted today of murdering babies.  I wanted George Tiller, Tiller the baby killer, going—hey, I can‘t make more money killing babies now.  Tiller the baby killer.  As “The Factor” has been reporting, this man will terminate fetuses at anytime for $5,000.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you think about Dr. George Tiller?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY:  I don‘t think anything about Dr. George Tiller.

O‘REILLY:  She doesn‘t seem to be real upset about this guy operating a death mill.


MADDOW:  Death mill.  That was FOX News host, Bill O‘Reilly then. 

During the life of George Tiller, for four years, he repeatedly accused Dr.  Tiller of murder, of infanticide.  He publicly compared him to everything, from Nazis, to pedophiles, to al Qaeda.  He described him as having blood on his hands.

Now that Dr. Tiller has been murdered inside his own church, here is Mr. O‘Reilly tonight.


O‘REILLY:  Anarchy and vigilantism will ensure the collapse of any society.  Once the rule of law breaks down, a country is finished.  Thus, clear-thinking Americans should condemn the murder of late-term abortionist, Tiller.  Even though the man terminated thousands of pregnancies, what he did is within Kansas law.

The 67-year-old Tiller had performed abortions for more than 35 years.  “The Washington Times” estimates he destroyed about 60,000 fetuses.  Very few American doctors will perform the operation.  None of that seemed to matter to Tiller, nicknamed “the baby killer” by pro-life groups, who stated he was helping women—Tiller stated that.

I report honesty.  Every single thing we said about Tiller was true.  My analysis was based on those facts.  It is clear that the far left is exploiting—exploiting, the death of the doctor.  Those vicious individuals want to stifle any criticism of people like Tiller.  That and hating FOX News is the real agenda here.

Finally if these people were so compassionate, so very compassionate, so concerned for the rights and welfare of others, maybe they might have written something, one thing, about the 60,000 fetuses who will never become American citizens.


MADDOW:  Do you think he‘s sorry that Dr. Tiller is dead?

Mr. O‘Reilly went on to claim he never tried to incite anything, he was just reporting.

Joining us now is Frank Schaeffer, who grew up in the religious far right, who made a documentary anti-abortion film series in the 1970s, and whose latest book is titled, “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elects, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back.”

Mr. Schaeffer, thank you very much for your time tonight.

FRANK SCHAEFFER, AUTHOR, “CRAZY FOR GOD”:  Thank you for having me on, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Writing at “Huffington Post,” you apologized, as a former member of the religious right, for what happened to Dr. Tiller.  Why did you feel the need to apologize?

SCHAEFFER:  Well, words have consequences.

And what we did in the ‘70s and ‘80s, my father, Dr. Francis Schaeffer, Dr. C. Everett Koop, who became Reagan surgeon general, members of the Republican Party who worked with us to make abortion part of the Republican agenda, the Roman Catholic allies that we had in the church, various people—we talked and our talk got more and more extreme, and less and less democratic.  Until, finally, my dad actually went so far as to write a book called “A Christian Manifesto,” where he said the use of force to change Roe v. Wade and roll back the law legalizing abortion would be legitimate and he compared Roe and the American government to Hitler‘s Germany in the 1930s.

And when you look at what happened to Dr. Tiller, there‘s a direct line connecting the rhetoric that I was part of as a young man and this murder.  And so, people, like me, are responsible for what we said and what we did and the way we raised the temperature on this debate out of all bounds.  And so, when O‘Reilly talks about the fact that these people of the far left are against FOX or against him or trying to muzzle the debate, he‘s telling a lie.

I am not a member of the far right—until I voted for Barack Obama in the last election, I am lifelong Republican.  I am still pro-life.  I also believe abortion should be legal, but I agree with Barack Obama when he says we ought to find ways to help women, help children, give contraceptives, sex education, to lessen the number of abortions.  I think abortion is a tragedy.

But I also think that pretending that you can call abortion murder and Tiller the baby killer, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera—and that these worlds don‘ words don‘t have an impact, is crazy.

So, this is what helps unhinge a society, talking like this.  And I was part of that, and that‘s why I apologize—and I would apologize again I am sorry for what I did.

And I think that people who say extreme things should stand up and take the consequences and admit when they were wrong.  And in this case, we were wrong.  We were wrong more really.  We were wrong politically.

And as a believing Christian, I was wrong in terms of someone who says he follows Jesus Christ.

MADDOW:  There are a lot of people in this country, obviously, who are part of the pro-life movement, the legal pro-life movement, and who hold pro-life views and who seek to change the laws of this country about abortion.  There‘s obviously what I consider to be a terrorist movement who believes not that the laws should be changed but that the laws should—but that people who are legally engaged in providing abortion services are legitimately targets of violence that they should be intimidated, harassed and in some cases killed.

Those two movements are not the same thing.  And it‘s important to me as an American that people who are pro-life feel that they can safely articulate those views and that they are not being attacked for what extremists have done.


MADDOW:  But I also don‘t want to excuse anybody who incites violence, or who, I guess, makes excuses for the violent wing of this movement, that has two very different wings.  How do you see the connection there?

SCHAEFFER:  Well, you know, the book you mentioned earlier, “Crazy for God,” has a number of chapters talking about the way we took the movement from its early stages when it was more a moral concern, not so much about politics and not so much about changing the law, and radicalized that movement.  I follow the step by step process.  Secret meetings with Pat Robertson down at the 700 Club, Jerry Falwell sending his jet up to me to bring me down to his church to speak a couple of times.

And what we did is we talked one game to the large public and we talked another game amongst ourselves.  And amongst ourselves, we were very radical.  And I don‘t think it takes much imagination to guess that, tonight, there are people who are publicly saying, “This is terrible, we never advocated killing, abortion is murder, but we didn‘t mean people to take us this seriously.”  But in private, you know, if these folks popped champion bottles, they would be drinking a toast to this murder tonight.

I know that this is the case because of the fact that I was part of the movement, but also understood very well what we were doing back then was to attack the political issue when we talked to people like Ronald Reagan and the Bush family and Jack Kemp—the late Jack Kemp that we were very close to in all this.  But on a private side, we also were egging people on to first pick at abortion clinics, then chain themselves to fences, then go to jail.

We knew full well that in a country that had seen the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther king, two Kennedy brothers and others, that what we were also doing was opening a gate here.  And I think there‘s no way to duck this.  We live in a country in which guns are all over the place.  We have plenty of people with a screw loose, plenty of people on the edge.  It only takes one.

And what scare me is that I see the rhetoric of the Republican Party right now—including the former vice president—about our newly elected African-American president has the same sort of coded stuff in it.  He‘s not a real American.  He‘s making America less safe.  He‘s a secret Muslim.  Some Christians in the same groups that are pro-life groups are running around saying he‘s the anti-Christ.

They also know full well that we have people out there who will take it to the next step and say, “Well, gee, if he‘s the anti-Christ, if he‘s anti-American, if he‘s a communist, maybe the best thing we can do is pull another trigger some other day.”

We live in a country where people get killed for their views sometimes.  We‘re a very divided nation coming out of this culture war.

It is irresponsible for people to make these wild statements—like Bill O‘Reilly does—and then step back after it happens and say, “Oh, I never meant that.”  Yes, they did mean it.  They meant exactly what they said.

And when you start calling people those sorts of names—the way I did back in the ‘70s and the early ‘80s—for which I am apologizing today, not just because of this but other incidents like this, if people don‘t stand up and actually take back these words, take back these angry word, they are still culpable for the next event that happens.  And we need to be able to just call it what it is.

MADDOW:  Frank Schaeffer is author of the book, “Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elects, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All or Almost All of It Back”—Mr. Schaeffer, it‘s just bracing testimony from you tonight.  Thanks for—thanks for being here on the show.

SCHAEFFER:  Thanks for having me on.

Copyright 2009 MSNBC

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