After Donald Trump suggested at a rally on Tuesday that “Second Amendment people” might be able to stop Hillary Clinton from picking judges, more than a few have noted how dangerous Trump’s language is and how that kind of toxic rhetoric can fuel acts of violence with tragic consequences, as we have seen too many times in the past year alone.
Those of us who work against anti-abortion violence unfortunately know all about this. Valerie Tarico wrote about this form of terrorism following the Planned Parenthood murders in Colorado Springs last November. The pattern she noted there is 100 percent applicable to Donald Trump and his supporters right now – except that we haven't yet had the major act of violence at the end of the string. [...]
In the world I'm most familiar with, the world of anti-abortion violence, we see this again and again from leaders of the anti-abortion movement. Tarico's post linked above is one example. This cartoon, drawn following Dr. George Tiller's assassination in 2009 (and dug up Tuesday by Michelle Kinsey Bruns), is another perfect illustration.
It’s a pattern that abortion providers in particular have seen play out time and again. Public figures or advocates demonize a person or group as a loathsome, inhuman monster, often using violent imagery and righteous rhetoric — like comparing abortion to slavery, or saying it’s worse than the Holocaust. Then when someone commits the act of violence that many people would consider an appropriate response to such extreme atrocities (who wouldn’t kill Hitler if they had the chance?), those same public figures react with shock and say that no one could have predicted this. [...]
In the years before Dr. George Tillerwas murdered in his church in Kansas, anti-abortion groups like Operation Rescueconducted a relentless campaign against Tiller, calling him “Tiller the Killer” and demanding that he be jailed. Some activists went so far as to distribute “Wanted” postersfeaturing Tiller’s picture and address. Operation Rescue also gathered enough petition signatures to take advantage of a state law that let citizens force a grand jury trial, and Tiller was tried for performing illegal abortions.
When Tiller was acquitted, though, Operation Rescue and its president Troy Newman continued to insistthat it wasn’t over, and that Tiller still had to be “brought to justice” through some other means. Newman (who has argued before that murdering abortion doctors may be justifiable) also pushed conspiracy theories that Tiller had bought off the local district attorney or other politicians with “blood money.” [...]
Trump is tapping into powerful forces that he can’t necessarily control with his constant drumbeat of delegitimizing rhetoric. And if Trump is actively egging those forces on, there are predictable consequences to his stochastic behavior.
There's no way to interpret this other than as a reference to assassination—whether the target is supposed to be his political opponent or the judges she may pick. And while Trump supporters will no doubt claim it was merely Donald Trump "joking" about assassinating a potential American president, that is not something that is ever, ever supposed to be "joked" about.
Politically motivated murder is not unheard of in this country or in others—not even in the last few years. A man began murdering people in a Planned Parenthood clinic late last year after conservative figures spread the fabricated story that the group was engaged in "selling baby parts.”
Regardless of whether or not he was intentionally calling for direct violence against Clinton or others with his Second Amendment comments, the fact remains that movement leaders have a grave responsibility for the words they say and the actions that those words may trigger. It's a lesson that is repeated over and over again, such as when Robert Dear was arrested after a fatal shootout at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, telling investigators "No more baby parts," or when a young man killed nine at a black church because he said he wanted to start a race war.