Of a (re) definition of ‘domestic terrorism’ in Kansas
May 14, 2011 2 Comments
See: Kansas Free Press, “Judge Dismissive of Threatening Letter To Dr Means“
On May 31st, 2009, Dr. Georges Tiller was shot in his church in Wichita by Scott Roeder, a self-proclaimed member of the ‘Army of God’, an anti-abortion movement stemming from the likes of Operation Rescue. Tiller, who not only faced trial for providing late-term abortions in a state where women’s health is strictly regulated, had already been shot in the arm in 1993 by Shelly Shannon, who was frequently visited by Roeder while in prison. If the murder of Dr. Tiller, the only provider of those services in the entire state of Kansas, came as a shock to the community, it was no surprise. Operation Rescue had always promoted violence against clinics and institutions such as Planned Parenthood. In the current political context, where the political will is so clearly to egg violence against women’s health and to rob them of federal protection, the decision of Judge Marten is, once again, predictable. What it is not is logical, or even in accordance with the legal common sense surrounding the protection of the individual against violence in the state.
The United States Justice Department (USJD) itself filed a claim against Dillard for already violating the FACE act, that guarantees women a safe access to clinics. FACE was a victory for Planned Parenthood and local women’s health practitioners who could request a protection, management and prevention from local law enforcement. Women and girls are often harassed and assaulted on their way to the clinic, intimidated and coerced into returning home or facing retaliation for whatever they were coming to the clinic for. FACE came too late in the legal system, and still takes time to be enforced. Clinics often have to resort to self-protection (the famous Planned Parenthood ‘escorts’) and women, who should feel protected, surrounded, and supported on their way to receiving health care, are instead isolated, threatened, and bewildered. The adoption of FACE was a legal response to the objective admission that anti-abortion groups represent a domestic threat to the well-being of american citizens, and should be kept at bay and under surveillance for violent activities. Groups such as Operation Rescue are not even shying away from admitting their commitment to violence; the Army of God, from its very name to its manifesto, believes it is at war and no longer recognizes the rule of law. This is the textbook definition of terrorism, regardless of the beliefs of current members of the House of Representatives.
In that, Judge Marten is painfully missing out on his role as a judge. The USJD and Dr. Means turned to him for protection regarding a matter that should not be taken lightly. In a country that has been on orange alert for terrorism since 2006, the irony is of a terrifyingly cynical nature. Let’s take a look at the letter Dillard sent to Dr. Means on January 15:
“Thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just in Wichita, but from all over the U.S. They will know your habits and routines. They will know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car everyday-because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.”
Not only is the threat of bombing clearly expressed in the letter, but the use of plural pronouns shows that Dillard does not believe she is acting alone, and that the letter was condoned by the ‘thousands of people’ she believes she is working with. The reference to a group carrying out illegal investigations on Dr. Means and working out on ending her life is the way any terrorist group would work. What is even more important here is that, should Judge Marten not be familiar with the regular workings of terrorist groups, the law specifies that it is not necessarily the more or less clear content of a threat that can justify a restraining order, but “how the threat is perceived by the recipient”. The sole fact that Dr. Means could be terrified by the letter should have resulted in immediate action against Dillard. Instead, Judge Marten chose to undermine and underplay a massive, nationwide threat that has already cost the nation the life of many health practitioners. In his ruling, Judge Marten establishes the precedence of the First Amendment over national security.
“The First Amendment is the absolute bedrock of this country’s freedom, and I think the ability to express an opinion on a topic that is important to one — even if it is controversial — has to be protected so long as the line is not crossed and becomes a true threat. I don’t think this letter constitutes a true threat (…)”
Judge Marten hereby extends the realm of application of the First Amendment to the freedom of menacing another person’s life, an appalling and dangerous decision that unfortunately echoes a similar decision rendered in 2008 by a federal judge Lynn Andelman on the grounds that a neo-nazi online posting threatening a juror was “not contrary to the First Amendment“, and “I am convinced that no reasonable factfinder considering the posts and the context in which they were made could conclude, based on an objective standard, that they constitute a solicitation.” The release of said neo-nazi, the very same week Judge Marten made his ruling, was compared to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords supposedly following a display on Sarah Palin’s website, on which the faces of Democrat representatives and senators were turned into targets with crosshairs. In that specific case, Sarah Palin was not charged of solicitation, but her website was quickly taken down.
However, when it comes to Dr. Means, attacks have been made personal, and have already been extremely specific in that her name, address, and habits were released and publicly posted. Dillard made a clear reference to the murder of Dr. Means’ predecessor in the very same field in the very same city, and it is clear that Wichita, KS holds enough Army of God members to constitute a clear threat to Dr. Means’ life. In the case of counter terrorism, where do national laws stop protecting fellow citizens, and become an instrument of legal coercion? In a political context where the Times Square bomber could see his Miranda Rights revoked for having committed a terrorist act, how is the First Amendment used to protect Angel Dillard, who so clearly, in language, intention and expression, intends to end Dr. Means’ life? Is it turning a blind eye to what is domestic, white-based, and social-issued terrorism, as opposed to international, ethnic-based, and foreign policy-originated violence?
It took a murder, twelve arsons, one bombing, and sixty-six blockades carried out by anti-abortion extremists in the sole year of 1993 to give birth to FACE, signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. The murder of Dr. Tiller, following threats of violence for decades against his clinic, staff, and person should have given way to harsher and stricter legislation protecting doctors from violence. Instead, in 2011, 33 anti-abortion laws were enacted throughout the United States. In Missouri, doctors performing late-term abortions, like Dr. Tiller and Dr. Means, see a possible fine up to $50,000 and three years in prison. In Indiana, a new law would force doctors to tell women, despite scientific evidence of the opposite, that the embryo can feel the pain of the abortion procedure and would force patients to undergo and view an ultrasound. In Montana, a similar bill wants doctors to inform their patients of an alleged link between abortion and breast cancer, despite, once again, scientific evidence.
When a nation is so evidently moving to the extreme right of social issues in a way that is politically enforced by state legislation, should security, law enforcement, and judicial powers support the political movement in a way that is detrimental to the well-being of citizens? Should domestic terrorism be downplayed to the point where social violence becomes just another way for ideological expression? Has democracy entirely run its course? The legal debate surrounding “protected speech” has, however, already been discussed by the Supreme Court, citing the direct link to be made between action and encouragement to action (see “direct incitement test” and Brandenburg vs Ohio): “speech is protected unless it is directed toward and likely to produce “imminent lawless action.”
The question now is, how far should said action be taken before we consider the threat of a bomb under one’s car an act of terrorism?