The commitment to nonviolence puts peaceful people at risk in any conflict. Take the case of George Tiller, MD, shot to death by an assassin during a church service in Kansas last week. The doctor, who treated women only and whose services included abortion, had been shot before and took due precautions, but to no avail. Tiller was determined to persevere in his practice, and his murderer, driven by faith in Christ and unrestrained by principle or conscience, seized the advantage.
How might things have turned out if decent people–who support Dr. Tiller and a woman’s right to control her own body–were similarly unrestrained? Suppose that the forces of good could unleash people as violent as those who kill abortion doctors. What might happen if suddenly abortion-protesters’ houses and cars started going up in flames or if Randall Terry got locked in his trunk or Bill O’Reilly got his ear nicked off in the barber’s chair or if somebody put up a couple of hundred bucks to buy a jailhouse beating for Tiller’s killer? The antiabortion movement might evaporate, its members suddenly less interested in terrorizing pregnant women. Tiller might not have had to die.
George Tiller’s medical practice had for years been plagued by threats of violence and patient-harassing abortion protesters. Like all personnel at all abortion clinics nationwide, he knew he was in danger and he knew that the people who were threatening him were capable of great violence. And he must have heard the incitements to violence broadcast by right-wing demagogues like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Dr. Tiller, a man of nonviolent conviction, would have balked at the idea of a pre-emptive strike on the domestic terrorists that eventually took his life, but with his death, we survivors might not be inclined to such tolerance.
I don’t know any non-Fascists who openly advocate violence to forestall violence, but that may be mere political correctness. Satanic figures like Limbaugh drive us to desperation, and even pacifists can turn nasty when friends and family are endangered. Dr. Tiller may not have been family to most of us, but he was one of us, and his murder weighs on all of us. The punishment of his assassin by due process of law might not suffice.
It’s not unreasonable to feel this way. The law-enforcement people charged with protecting Tiller and his clinic can’t be relied on for protection against Christian gangs, whose absurd claim of a license to kill for Jesus seems to hold sway with the authorities. In fact, the police and FBI had a crack at Tiller’s assassin only a day before the murder, after he was caught on videotape vandalizing a clinic in Kansas City. The cops passed up the opportunity to haul him in, and he stalked and shot Dr. Tiller a day later.
Eventually, peace-loving people may begin to look for other recourse, above and beyond anything the law–or absence of law–can offer in these disordered times. The tactics of the anti-abortion terrorists, including assassination, must be reckoned effective, since they keep many frightened women from exercising their rights and make women’s clinics a dangerous place to work. In the natural progression of conflict, the terrorists’ violent tactics, effective as they are, might eventually be applied to the just defense of the clinics and women they terrorize.