Ann Coulter's Justifications for Murder

by: Frederick Clarkson

Wed Jan 12, 2011 at 19:00


It is tragic that it took the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder and wounding of 18 others to bring home to most of us the horror of years of rightwing violence, threats of violence, and public murder fantasies.

While the actual views of alleged shooter Jared Loughner are hazy, and whether far rightwing influences on his thinking played any role in his motives for the shooting remains to be seen, we find ourselves nevertheless talking about the climate of hate and violence, as well as the actual violence itself that has been building for a very long time.

Many examples of the uses of violent imagery and open suggestion of violence have been discussed in the past few days, but I have not seen any reference to, let alone discussion of Ann Coulter's repeated (sometimes winking)  justification -- before two national Religious Right political conferences, in her syndicated column, and on Fox News -- of the assassination of abortion providers.  

Frederick Clarkson :: Ann Coulter's Justifications for Murder
Ann Coulter is skilled at saying what she really believes while building in a certain plausible deniability, and that is what she has repeatedly done in justifying the assassination of abortion providers.  In 2007, she declared at the Reclaiming America for Christ political conference hosted by the late D. James Kennedy, that she could "understand" the assassination of abortion providers, which she described as "a procedure with a rifle."

Here is what she said as first reported by journalist Adele Stan.

"Those few abortionists were shot, or, depending on your point of view, had a procedure with a rifle performed on them. I'm not justifying it, but I do understand how it happened.... The number of deaths attributed to Roe v. Wade about 40 million aborted babies and seven abortion clinic workers; 40 million to seven is also a pretty good measure of how the political debate is going."

On an other occasion she once again declared that she understands why people are led to these acts of violence:

Speaking at the 2008 Values Voters Summit, an annual Religious Right political conference in Washington, DC, she stated that doctors were being murdered -- because the number of abortions were insufficiently reduced by the 1992 Casey decision of the Supreme Court drove people to violence. Chip Berlet and Pam Chamberlain of Political Research Associates, quoted Coulter as saying:

For two decades after Roe, no abortion clinic doctors were killed. But immediately after Planned Parenthood v. Casey, after working within the system did not work, produced no results... for the first time an abortion doctor was killed. A few more abortion clinic workers were killed in the next few years. I'm not justifying it, but I understand when you take democracy away from people, some of them will react violently. The total number of deaths attributable to Roe were seven abortion clinic workers and 40 million unborn babies

Even more grotesque, was her after the fact justification in her nationally syndicated column, for the 2009 assassination of Dr. George Tiller.  Borrowing from and inverting some prochoice language she wrote:

I wouldn't kill an abortionist myself, but I wouldn't want to impose my moral values on others. No one is for shooting abortionists. But how will criminalizing men making difficult, often tragic, decisions be an effective means of achieving the goal of reducing the shootings of abortionists?

Following the moral precepts of liberals, I believe the correct position is: If you don't believe in shooting abortionists, then don't shoot one.

 Then, appearing on The O'Reilly Factor, as reported by Politics Daily, she repeated her argument:
"I don't really like to think of it as a murder. It was terminating Tiller in the 203rd trimester."


When pressed by O'Reilly, Coulter replied, "I am personally opposed to shooting abortionists, but I don't want to impose my moral values on others."

Although justifications by far right pundits for political violence is, as we are recently reminded, far more widespread and taken for granted than any of us can even keep track of, violence, threats, and justification for such violence against abortion providers too often gets a pass. But it is worth noting that the justifications for antiabortion violence and murder have been well developed over many years, and have served as the model for how to justify political violence and get away with it.

Crossposted from Talk to Action  


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Not Just Getting Away With It, But Turning It Into "Humor" (4.00 / 2)
As it becomes increasingly frowned upon to tell racist jokes, the right has an ever-deepening unfilled craving for new forms of sadistic humor.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

Ann Coulter, Sara Palin, Laura Ingram (0.00 / 0)
Michelle Malkin, that Gellar sicko....what is with right wing women and their obsession with hate and violence.  Sickos.

justification for antiabortion violence (4.00 / 3)
has been an important Overton Window for all of the rest.  The idea of "targeting" doctors; drawing bulls-eyes and crosshairs on their pictures, putting up wanted posters on telephone poles and posting online what can be reasonably taken as a hit list, has been the story of the past two decades.

As a society, we have mostly turned a blind eye to all this because it was about abortion. But to most of the far religious right, this was never only about abortion. It is about a revolutionary theocratic sensibility with an eye to the long term.  We would be remiss in the current crisis, not to consider this major strand of rightwing thought and action.


It's not exactly a stretch (4.00 / 1)
I agree with Fred Clark on this one.  If you believe that abortion is murder, and that abortion doctors are literally killing hundreds of babies, then how can you not believe that stopping them by whatever means possible, up to and including violence, is, at the very least, justified (if not obligatory)?  I mean, they call it the "American Holocaust"; if you could kill Hitler before he came to power, would you?

(disclaimer: I do not think abortion is in any way similar to the Holocaust.)

"He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing."--Socrates
(formerly DavidN)


the question is (4.00 / 4)
as Archibald Cox once asked, are we a nation of laws, or a nation of men?  His point is that anyone can believe that they are above the law, and act on that basis. But that does not mean that their views get to prevail.

Some think that God's law says that abortion is murder and take the matter seriously enough to assassinate doctors and others. But their idiosyncratic understanding of Christian doctrine (about which many Christians disagree and are prochoice) does not trump American criminal laws nor does it trump the constitutional right to receive and to provide abortion care.

People who believe that abortion is a holocaust and act on that idea tend to be revolutionaries at odds with our constitutional order and very often are criminals as well. They are not all as coarsely provocative as Ann Coulter, but that does not mean that they are any less serious.


[ Parent ]
Oh, I agree completely (4.00 / 1)
Personally believing that your murder of Person X was justified doesn't give you a get-out-of-jail-free card.  If it did, we couldn't imprison anybody.

My point is, Ann Coulter is not being an irrational bomb-thrower, at least in this instance.  If you believe abortion is murder, killing abortion doctors is a rational response.  It is also a rational response for society to decide that you are wrong, and so deserve to go to jail for life (or get the death penalty, as the case may be).

But the reason we don't have more murders of abortion doctors is because the vast majority of people who claim to believe abortion is murder don't really believe it.

"He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing."--Socrates
(formerly DavidN)


[ Parent ]
Quite True (4.00 / 1)
But the reason we don't have more murders of abortion doctors is because the vast majority of people who claim to believe abortion is murder don't really believe it.

Not just abortion, though. Virtually the whole rightwing agenda is a scam--the "free market" stuff equally so.  Neither the leaders nor the followers actually believe 90% of it, at least.  It's like a code they use to justify what they both know can't be justified.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
Oh I disagree completely! (4.00 / 3)
I think that they do believe abortion is murder. What they are, is unwilling to act on their beliefs.  It is true that there is, as Fred Clark (no relation) wrote in his post that there is a disconnect between rhetoric and action. But I also think that it is within this disconnect that is the danger and the opportunity.

The danger is that their movement will congeal to the point where violent action becomes the rule rather than the exception. In that instance, it is possible that the war of attrition may wear the abortion providers down to the point where few will be willing to include abortion in their practices.

The opportunity for those prochoicers and advocates of constitutional democracy and the rule of law, is to call them out not on their extreme rhetoric, but the extremity of their underlying beliefs. But of course, one would have to believe that they take themselves seriously in order to do that. And I think that is the problem that we face. Most of us do not take them seriously. And that is why they are winning.

For more on the politics and ideology of these points, see my book Eternal Hostility:  The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy.)


[ Parent ]
My Take (0.00 / 0)
I'm not sure we really disagree so fundamentally.  

My take is that what they really believe in is their own moral superiority.  And what better way than to think of their enemies as murderers?  So of course they "believe" abortion is murder in one sense.  But not in the sense that any normal personal would act if they really believed that someone is a murderer.

Most importantly, my view doesn't lead me to disagree with your view of the peril we face.

This may help clarify somewhat (or not): I see the desire to feel moral superiority as a fundamental aspect of racism as well.  I think that a very significant number of racists know damn well that they aren't superior--and it's the very fact that they know it's a lie that gives it added intensity, even desperation. In the same sense, I think that for many the abortion-is-murder ferver is partially driven by knowing--at some level--that it's a lie.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
I think we disagree more than you may think (4.00 / 1)
Or at least differently than you may think.

I invite you to check your psychoanalysis at the door. Moral superiority is not anyone's need.  What is dangerous is not that people feel morally superior to others. There are plenty of people who are not part of the religious right who share that all too human quality.

The beliefs involved here actually run far deeper and must be taken far more seriously. The folks who hold them take the long view and their strategies run long as well. And I repeat, they are winning.

The problem I am surfacing here is the refusal of folks on our side to take the beliefs of others as seriously as those beliefs may warrant. I take the time to say this as fully and carefully as I can because I believe it is the the single greatest obstacle to our own long-term success.  


[ Parent ]
It's Not Psychoanalysis (0.00 / 0)
It's an interactive dynamic involving social dominance orientation (SDO) and rightwing authoritarianism (RWA), both of which have a good deal of empirical foundations to them. And maybe "moral superiority" is not the best shorthand for describing it, but in this particular context, it seems most apt--although those high in SDO don't tend to be very moral in conventional terms (more Randian than anything else).

I take those attitudinal orientations very seriously, and even though the beliefs are secondary, according to the evidence generated in studying these attitudinal constructs, I take them seriously as well.  However, cognitive inconsistency is part of the package they come with, too.  Those who score high on these scales--particularly RWAs, who represent the followers more than the leaders--are MUCH more likely to hold contradictory views.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3


[ Parent ]
You got it (0.00 / 0)
The problem I am surfacing here is the refusal of folks on our side to take the beliefs of others as seriously as those beliefs may warrant.

Its so much easier to redefine those belief systems, or cast them as some kind of defective or stifled form of social development. It easier to call them "crazy" or claim they operate a lower level of cognition, than to take these folks at face value.

It becomes a bastardized version of the Pogo quote: "We've have met the enemy and they are us so insane they need me to tell them what they really believe."



"It sounds wrong...
     ...but its right."


[ Parent ]
One of these days (4.00 / 2)
I want to write an article series, based on the premise "Conservatism is a Lie."  It would span the gamut, from the anti-abortion folks to the "free" marketers to the "anti-government" people to pretty much the entirety of neo-conservatism.

I'll have a lot of free time in the next few months, so I might start soon...

"He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing."--Socrates
(formerly DavidN)


[ Parent ]
The actual question (4.00 / 2)
Isn't necessarily whether or not you think you are above the law.  Sometimes, it is whether or not you think breaking the law does sufficient good that you are willing to take the listed penalty for your disobedience of civil law.

Things You Don't Talk About in Polite Company: Religion, Politics, the Occasional Intersection of Both

[ Parent ]
Yes, But... (4.00 / 3)
the right is almost never willing to pay the penalties.  Heck, I remember the beginnings of Operation Rescue.  If those folks had just been locked up for 90 days, the whole thing would have folded like a cheap tent.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Right (4.00 / 1)
the law of Nazi Germany was that hiding Anne Frank was illegal and punishable by severe penalty.  Any sane person would think that action was heroic, though.  Law can be justice, but law is not necessarily justice.  

[ Parent ]
violating (4.00 / 1)
the civil and constitutional rights of Americans by way of the criminal laws of the U.S. is not honorable, nor is it in the tradition of resistance to the Nazis. Good grief.

You will be interested to know that the now defunct annual fundraiser for antiabortion revolutionaries in prison for such crimes as murder, arson and kidnapping, was for many years called White Rose Banquet, a name misappropriated from a short-lived World War II-era anti-Nazi resistance group.


[ Parent ]
The point is not that we think it's similar (0.00 / 0)
The point is that, if they honestly believed in their rhetoric, they'd think it was similar, and so would be compelled to act as they would under the Nazi regime.

Look: You say earlier that you think they're "unwilling to act on their beliefs."  If so, you think they're far more monstrous than I do.  I just think they are pretending to believe these things so they can pretend to believe in their own moral superiority (to use Paul's words).  You think they truly believe they're confronted with evil on par with the Holocaust, and their response is to sit on their ass except for voting Republican every 4 years, and maybe talk to their friends about it occasionally.

I'm very cynical about the Religious Right, but I'm not that cynical.

"He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing."--Socrates
(formerly DavidN)


[ Parent ]
it depends a bit on which "they" (4.00 / 1)
we are talking about.  But yes, I do think that many people are that complacent in the face of what they view as evil, particularly an evil that they cannot see. Abortions are pretty much carried out in private and the circumstances are usually hard to even know about, except of course for the professional busibodies that do zealously pursue any and all leads in some communities.

But for the most part, people prefer to deal with the things they enjoy in life, and not things that they find horrific. And that is not as contradictory or as hypocritical as it may seem.  I think it is fairer to say that most such people use the term holocaust more casually than the term ought to suggest.  But that does not change the seriousness with which such people also take the matter and would, under the right circumstances, become a mob. We have seen this already in our country, and it could happen again.

It concerns me that Rick Warren called abortion a holocaust at the presidential forum he held at his church with Obama and McCain, and then called on everyone to practice civility and avoid demonization -- having just compared prochoice Americans, including Obama, to the Nazis. That struck me as outrageous hypocrisy -- and yet as a country, we hardly noticed.  I have returned to this episode from time-to-time in my ongoing efforts to sort out the issues of language, beliefs and politics. (Here, for example.) And part of the take away is that we need to use care not only in what words we use, but in what conclusions we draw from words as used by others. Especially a wildly loaded term like holocaust. The Rick Warren episode I think shows us something about how serious a word it can be (as well as the ideas behind them) and how debased and meaningless the words can be as well.


[ Parent ]
Just a few points (0.00 / 0)
1) At this point, I'm not sure exactly where we disagree, so I apologize if this response seems inadequate.

2) I don't deny these people could become a mob quite easily.  But they don't necessarily have to believe in what they're saying to do so.

3) Conservatives have destroyed more words than "holocaust" ("freedom" being the most obvious), but that only goes to my point (emphasis added):

[Conservatives are] in a tough spot these days partly because it's impossible for them to mount the defense of their rhetoric that is true: "I am a frivolous person, and I don't choose my words based on their meaning. Rather, I behave like the worst caricature of a politician.


"He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing."--Socrates
(formerly DavidN)


[ Parent ]
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