Monday, June 8, 2009

“God Sent the Shooter:” White Christian Terrorism and the Assassination of George Tiller

By Sikivu Hutchinson

“God sent the shooter,” the signs wielded by anti-abortion protestors at the funeral of slain doctor George Tiller proclaimed. Last week’s assassination of abortion provider and feminist George Tiller in a Kansas church on the so-called holy seventh day was not only a barbaric act of religious cowardice but a terrorist assault on the rights of women. Tragically similar to the 1998 murder of New York doctor Bernard Slepian, Tiller’s murder was the culmination of years of attempted murders, death threats, bombings and arson attacks waged against abortion providers by white Christian terrorists.

Despite the scope of this orchestrated campaign mainstream media rarely identify these acts or those who commit them as “terrorist.” Those who invoke Christian fundamentalism as justification for their barbaric incursions against women and their allies are dismissed as aberrations, even though the profiles of the killers are always the same, the suspects—generally disaffected white middle aged males, aligned with a crackpot anti-government militia and/or fundamentalist ethos steeped in the bloody retribution of the Old Testament—virtually plucked from central casting.

These spasms of Christian fundamentalist violence are largely peculiar to the United States. Anti-abortion activism in Western European countries such as Britian, France and Italy doesn’t inspire anywhere near the level of militant resistance seen here. This virulent strain of fundamentalism was nourished by three theocratic Republican administrations that dismembered the Constitution and effectively sanctioned criminal campaigns against abortion providers. So while the U.S. condemns Muslim religious fundamentalism and trumpets itself as a beacon for individual and civil liberties unbridled by theocratic intolerance it has become a breeding ground for the most dangerous Christian fundamentalist terrorist movement in the world.

Christian fundamentalism has always objectified women’s bodies as patriarchal property and territory for reproductive control. It’s no surprise then that these white men deem themselves to be Christian soldiers in the war over the wombs of Middle American and Southern white women. It’s also no surprise that the Bible Belt, fount of hyper-religious public policy that demonizes sex education and contraception, has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Christian fundamentalist dogma is about keeping ‘em barefoot, knocked up and in obeisance to a God that would rather see an impoverished 12 year-old incest victim carry her rapist father’s baby to term and suffer lifelong psychological trauma than undergo a safe legal abortion and have a reasonable expectation for a future. And it is immoral, radically anti-woman positions like these which make the “pro-life” misnomer appropriated by the anti-abortion movement so infuriating. In the militant anti-choice universe the lives of real babies living in poverty and their real mothers and real families are of no consequence next to protection of the religiously decreed “rights” of the unborn. White male anti-abortion terrorists can’t get similarly exorcised about cuts to women’s health care benefits and pre and postnatal care to mothers in real time because it would mean ceding control to flesh and blood women.

Tiller’s assassination also dovetails with a dangerous shift in public opinion regarding the future of choice for American women imperiled by unwanted pregnancies. Influenced by a decade of unrelenting right wing propaganda that equates abortion with murder and abortion providers with Nazi eugenicists, polls indicate that a growing majority of the American public has adopted a “pro-life” stance and is willfully ignorant about the life-giving and life-saving potential of legal abortion. Dispatching shooters from “God,” the anti-abortion movement must accept responsibility for the murderous religious rhetoric that led to the assassination of George Tiller and the terrorist assault on the rights and lives of American women.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a commentator for KPFK 90.7FM.