I completely agree with Cara Kulwicki and Ann Friedman: The murder of Dr. George Tiller was an act of terrorism. It’s goal was to intimidate women against exercising their right to choose abortion, and to intimidate doctors who perform them. The government has a duty to see that this intimidation fails — protecting the legal right of women to choose and secure a safe abortion is a U.S. national security issue.
I also think Adam Serwer is on to something important when he writes that “despite the fact that American politics has been fixated on terrorism for almost a decade, we’ve failed to establish a clear and concise definition for terrorism”:
I don’t think it’s because terrorism is so amorphous that it requires the pornography standard (“I know it when I see it”), but rather because any proper definition might implicate us as a nation in having participated in terrorism in the past. [...]
My working definition of terrorism is pretty simple: Terrorism is the deliberate murder of civilians or destruction of property in order to achieve a political objective. I think this definition works because it covers everything from cross-burnings and lynchings to the Weathermen bombings to the attack on the World Trade Center.
It’s not so much that we’ve failed to establish a definition of terrorism — I think the one Adam gives is generally accepted — as much as we just neglect or simply refuse to apply it to political violence on behalf of causes to which we’re sympathetic. Terrorism is what the other side does.
Greg Sargent makes the excellent point that the intent of the much-maligned Dept. of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremism “which was chock full of warnings about ‘lone wolf extremists’ capable of violence, now looks perfectly defensible, even reasonable.”
Despite the predictable whining of anti-choice extremists (is there any scenario in which conservatives can’t cast themselves as the real victims?), it is perfectly appropriate to ask what effect the sort of inflammatory rhetoric coming from Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and others had on the Dr. Tiller’s murderer. We certainly shouldn’t lump all anti-choice Americans, the vast majority of whom are of course non-violent and seek to enforce their preferences primarily through the legal system, together with the terrorist who killed Tiller, but neither should we pretend that O’Reilly’s ominous promises of “judgment” to come and Coulter’s assassination humor had no effect at all.