Holocaust Museum, Kansas doctor: When hate and politics turn deadly

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WASHINGTON — Labor and human rights groups as well as political commentators have reacted with alarm to the May 31 murder of Dr. George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who performed abortions, and, 12 days later, the shooting of security guard, Stephen T. Johns, an African American, at the Holocaust Museum in the nation’s capital.

They charge that these hate crimes are proof of a dangerous surge in right-wing “domestic terrorism.”

The corporate media is depicting the murders as acts of deranged “lone gunmen.” But organizations that are waging the struggle to protect civil rights and women’s rights point out that Tiller has been the target of hate-mongers like Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly for over a decade. On at least 35 occasions O’Reilly referred, on the air, to the Wichita physician as “Tiller the Baby Killer.” He echoes the ravings of Operation Rescue’s Randall Terry who, on learning of Tiller’s killing, snarled, “George Tiller was a mass murderer.”

Arrested in Tiller’s killing was Scott Roeder, a well-known anti-abortion fanatic who repeatedly threatened Tiller’s life. The accused Holocaust Museum gunman was James von Brunn, an anti-Semite with long-standing ties to the Aryan Nation white supremacists.

Marsha Zakowski, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), told the World in a phone interview from her Pittsburgh office, “Everyone has the right of free speech but when this prejudice and hatred turns into murder it must stop. We must do everything we can to stop the hatred.” Zakowski, who also serves as chair of the United Steelworkers’ Civil and Human Rights Committee, commented on actor Jon Voight’s recent speech to a Republican fund-raising dinner in which he said it is time to “bring an end to this false prophet, Obama.”

Said Zakowski, “Jon Voight is a celebrity. He can influence people. Voight has just been coming out with this ultra-conservative point of view. It is deplorable.”

“CLUW is a pro-choice organization,” she said. “It’s the right of a woman to decide. We certainly deplore the murders of Dr. Tiller and the security guard at the Holocaust Museum.”

Brad Luna, media director of the Human Rights Campaign, which fights hate crimes against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, told the World, “As a community that faces an ongoing threat of hate-motivated violence, we know that these individual acts are designed to terrorize an entire community. They are a sad reminder that we must recommit ourselves to stopping extremism and hate in whatever form it takes.”

He urged people to contact their senators to demand passage of the Matthew Shepard Act “that will help law enforcement combat hate crimes.” It is named for young Matthew Shepard, a gay student lynched by homophobes in Wyoming in 1998. The bill is scheduled for a Senate vote this week or next.

Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), pointed out that Dr. Tiller was the fifth physician slain in a decades-long string of murders and injuries of abortion clinic doctors, nurses and staff by enemies of women’s reproductive rights.

“Bringing the killers to justice is not enough,” she said in a statement. “The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security must root out and prosecute as domestic terrorists and violent racketeers the criminal enterprise that has organized and funded criminal acts for decades.”

She added, “We call on the new attorney general Eric Holder and head of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to treat these murders in the same way they would treat politically-motivated domestic terrorism of any other kind and put the full resources of their two departments behind that effort.”

Michael B. Keegan, president of People for the American Way, wrote an open letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano citing the two murders and urging her to release her department’s report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” The report was withdrawn this spring when ultra-right Republicans reacted furiously to its findings.

In his June 11 letter Keegan wrote that “the events of the last two weeks show that its core findings are fundamentally correct: ‘The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.’”

He added, “The Department of Homeland Security is charged with protecting the security of all Americans, and it is essential for the American public to have the unvarnished truth about the rise of dangerous extremism in this country.”

New York Times columnist Frank Rich headlined his op ed on Sunday, “The Obama Haters’ Silent Enablers.” He quotes Fox News anchor Shepard Smith who warned on-camera of “amped up” Americans who are “taking the extra step and getting the gun out,” ready to inflict maximum punishment on those they disagree with.

Smith told Fox viewers that after the shooting of Tiller and Johns he received “a hundred” e-mails spewing “hate that’s not based on facts,” much of it directed at President Obama.

“What’s startling is the spillover of this poison into the conservative political establishment,” Rich said, referring to Voight’s incendiary comment about Obama. “This kind of rhetoric, with its pseudo-Scriptural call to action, is toxic. It is getting louder each day of the Obama presidency. No one, not even Fox News viewers, can say they weren’t warned.”

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