“Hate speech” is a pretty well-defined sort of communication that targets an individual or a group with protected characteristics – such as race or religion – for the purpose of threatening intimidating them.
Despite the difficulty of determining intent, one can make a case for labeling portions of the report, “Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right,” by Dr. Arie Perliger, director of terrorism studies at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), as “hate speech.” Portions of the report target a particular group – people who believe that a live, human being is present from the moment of conception until death – and extrapolate false conclusions.
The crux of Perliger’s accusation is that “the anti-abortion/pro-life” position is an “ideological platform” espoused by the “Christian fundamentalist violent far right” (terms used in section 3.1.3). This anti-abortion/pro-life position includes the beliefs that “the abortion industry” engages in “the systematic killing of innocent and pure human beings;” that “since every human being is created in the image of God, it is by definition a sin to end their lives;” and that “any violent acts to end their lives [of 'fetuses'] are immoral and should be prevented.” (184.108.40.206)
From those positions, Perliger gleans a proclivity for anti-Semitism and for violence. He writes, for instance: “Historically, other anti-Semitic characteristics have emerged in the movement, including Holocaust denial and the linking of Jews to practices and beliefs which their members perceive to be socially injurious, such as abortion and socialism.” For “proof” of this scurrilous comment, Perliger offers the footnote #108: “These tendencies apparently could also be identified in the broader pro-Life movement, as the words of Father Paul Marx, founder of ‘Human Life International,’ illustrate: ‘it is a strange thing how many leaders of the abortion movement are Jewish.’ See Aryeh Dean Cohen, ‘ADL: Anti-abortion attacks tainted with anti-Semitism’, Jerusalem Post Service, (1998), see http://www.jweekly.com/article/full/9450/adl-anti-abortion-attacks-tainted-with-anti-semitism/ (accessed 2 November 2012).”
Concerning “pro-life” violence, Perliger’s sole example is the existence of a group called Army of God, “the organization which would become the public face of the violent campaign against abortion clinics and their staffs during the 1980s and 1990s.”
This is a remarkably thin argument for “pro-life violence.” The Army of God represents a handful of individuals who have been roundly denounced by the pro-life community (footnote #120, which Perliger uses as his source, is a good example: “Frank Schaeffer, ‘We Who Sowed Hate Share Blame In Killing Of Abortion Doctor,’ Baltimore Sun, (2 June 2009), http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2009-06-02/news/0906010039_1_abortion-late-term-roe-v (accessed 2 November 2012); Baird-Windle and Bader, 61–62”).
That Army of God is an aberration is understood even by those in favor of abortion “rights:” Jennifer Jefferis introduces her book, Armed for Life: The Army of God and Anti-Abortion Terror in the United States, by describing the challenges of studying a group that is “an organization that is not at all organized; a pro-life group justifying the use of fatal force; a shadowy movement composed of individuals ready and willing to talk to anyone who will listen about why they do what they do; a group of only a few dozen able to paralyze an industry.” [emphasis added] Branding the pro-life position of a large group of people as “right-wing,” “extremist,” “violent,” and “anti-Semitic” based on the opinions of a “few dozen” itself seems a little…extreme.
One must point out that this pro-life position is precisely the position of the Catholic Church – not simply of individuals within the Catholic community but of fundamental principles that the Church magisterium has emphasized repeatedly. Perliger recognizes this, writing: “It is no coincidence that the pro-life leadership has been dominated by religious leaders and associations. For example, the American Catholic leadership invested significant efforts in thwarting the growing impact of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision and in 1974 the United States Catholic Conference sent four cardinals to Washington, DC in order to convince Congress to legislate a national prohibition on abortion.” (220.127.116.11)
However, in law it is often said that truth is the best defense so, as this is such a serious accusation, it would be valuable to look at the most salient aspect of Perliger’s thesis in regard to the pro-life movement: “[S]ince the late 1970s Americans have witnessed an increase in the number of violent attacks against the abortion industry, which have been initiated by groups and individuals demonstrating strong religious and fundamentalist sentiments.” (p. 37)
The statistics available from the National Abortion Federation – which is not friendly to the pro-life movement – belie Perliger’s opinion. (www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/violence/documents/Stats_Table2011.pdf) There has been one murder of an abortion-provider, Dr. George Tiller, in the country since 1998. This is certainly one too many, but hardly an “increase in the number of violent attacks against the abortion industry.”
Nor was it an act that was in any way supported by the pro-life movement. In response Tiller’s murder, every mainstream pro-life organization – such as American Life League, Human Life International, and the Pro-Life League – publicly decried this lamentable act.
And, it must be noted that the violence isn’t one-sided. The same year that Tiller was murdered, pro-life activist James Pouillon was shot and killed by a pro-choice advocate. That unbalanced people justify their actions according to a particular set of beliefs is not yet an argument that those beliefs fostered the unbalanced act.
So, Perliger’s use of Army of God rhetoric and history as evidence of the pro-life movement’s “violence,” “antisemitism,” and “terrorism” isn’t simply untrue and unjust. It’s also calculated. Identifying the pro-life movement with more generalized “violent, right-wing” ideology, driven by fanatical religionists and conservative politics, gives policy makers a mandate to intervene. To this end, Perliger writes: “the response in terms of counter-terrorism policies must be … group/movement oriented.” (p. 146)
That means rallying the forces of the United States’ counter-terrorism energy against people who are not violent by ideological bent and who fall into several specific categories – such as the Catholics who are, by doctrinal definition, “pro-life” (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church #2270-2279 regarding abortion and euthanasia). Recommending counter-terrorism measures against an amorphous pro-life movement is also, directly, a threat against any religious body (group) holding and inculcating the positions Perliger claims are held by the “Christian fundamentalist violent far right.”
If this isn’t hate speech, nothing is.
Spero columnist Stephanie Block is the editor of the New Mexico-based Los Pequenos newspaper and the author of 'Change Agents: Alinskyian Organizing in Religious Bodies'.