Repentant religious righty Frank Schaeffer — son of the legendary fundamentalist Francis Schaeffer and a former evangelical leader in his own right — lays the blame for the recent uptick in domestic terrorism squarely at the feet of of our nation’s conservative leaders. He recalls the biblical story of pre-conversion Paul (then known as Saul) holding the coats of people who were stoning a Christian to death — and claims modern right-wingers such as James Dobson, Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, and the NRA are doing much the same thing. “These coat-holders sow the seeds of hate with their words,” he says, “then pretend horror when those words are taken seriously.”
The right-wing terror machine has, indeed, been in full force lately. In addition to the litany of misdeeds I mentioned in my last post — Tiller’s murder, the Holocaust museum shooting, and the lesbian beatdown — Schaeffer reminds us of the most gruesome act yet: the slaying of a man and his 10-year-old daughter (as well as the attempted murder of the wife/mother) in their home in Arizona. The family members were Mexican immigrants, a fact that the self-proclaimed vigilantes who murdered them apparently didn’t like. There is undeniably a sick trend at work in this country.
Nevertheless, I wrestle with the extent to which we can legitimately accuse right-wing leaders of complicity in such acts. We do, after all, live in a democratic society. We have a marketplace of ideas. If one believes abortion is murder, he or she should be free to say so without being held responsible for the nutjobs who decide to kill abortion providers. Indeed, look at it from the other side: some folks on the left have accused George W. Bush and his neoconservative cohorts of being murderers themselves. Would the left therefore be responsible if someone assassinated Richard Perle? I’d hope not, and for that reason would like to extend the benefit of the doubt to our right-wing friends who despise liberal policies but would not condone domestic terrorism.
Then again, there is the pesky matter of how things actually play out in the real world. And the violence at issue is essentially coming from one side: the right. Notwithstanding extremely rare cases of eco-terrorism, we’re talking about a phenomenon that reflects fundamentalism, racism, and nativism — all outgrowths of right-wing extremism. If we’re going to tackle the problem of domestic terrorism, conservative leaders need to condemn such violence frequently and forcefully. That is not their legal obligation, of course. Speech is free. But with lives on the line, it is their moral obligation.