We are a threat
(This section of the newsletter discusses violence, if that’s not something you want to read about today.)
The FBI is warning local law enforcement about the terror threat that “pro-choice extremists” pose, though by their own admission such extremists hardly exist. There’s only been one such pro-choice extremist to have ever been prosecuted, and per the FBI, he “acted independently and without any direct affiliation to a pro-choice group.”
As there are no known organizations that espouse violence against anti-choicers, it’s not clear how cops are supposed to identify who these pro-choice extremists are. Ever helpful, the FBI has provided an identifying characteristic: “Belief in a moral duty to protect those who provide and receive abortion services.”
It would be easy to frame this as a story about the Trump era, Trump’s continued assault on abortion rights, etc. Mike Pence surely has some friends in the FBI, but this has been a long time coming. As Jezebel points out, at some point between the Bush and the Obama administrations—it’s not clear when, but definitely by 2010—the FBI formerly reclassified “Anti Abortion Extremists” as “Abortion Extremism.” Remember, Dr. Tiller was murdered just the year before, in 2009. The one known self-described “pro-choice terrorist” to have ever been prosecuted wasn’t arrested until 2011 (he had threatened to kill two anti-abortion activists if the man who murdered Dr. Tiller got off with an acquittal). I’m reaching for a metaphor here about Trump being just the orange, crusty frosting on some kind of cake and it’s not really working but the point is, these seeds were sown years ago; the FBI has a long history of re-casting civil rights activism as a security threat (“Black identity extremists,” anyone?) while providing cover for actual white supremacist, Islamophobic extremists, including many such extremists within their own ranks. Where’s the New York Times deep dive on the ties between law enforcement and the anti-abortion movement? I’m sincerely asking; someone write this, please.
And then there’s Matt Bowman: not a member of the FBI, but he’s deputy general counsel at the Department of Health and Human Services, and he has a colorful past of blocking clinic entrances, filming patients as they entered clinics, and recording the license plate numbers of clinic staff. It’s a short path from full-time clinic harassment to the top of the federal agency responsible for reproductive healthcare, apparently. Trump didn’t exactly pluck him out of obscurity for the DHS job, though; he clerked for multiple federal judges, including future Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, on his way up the ladder of right-wing legal power. Somehow, multiple arrests for disorderly conduct (i.e., harassing abortion clinic staffers and patients) weren’t disqualifying for passing the bar, or for litigating high-stakes cases about our reproductive rights.
To be clear. The very same FBI that is training cops to spot “pro-choice extremists” in the wild is investigating a fire at a Planned Parenthood as a possible hate crime. The same cops who have been warned about the existence of pro-choice extremists from the FBI are the ones who show up to police our clinic defenses, at the beck and call of antis. An actual domestic terrorist, who describes her attempt to murder Dr. Tiller in 1993 as “the most righteous thing I’ve ever done,” is out of prison and unrepentant. Actual domestic terrorists have killed 11 people in and around clinics since 1993, and have attempted to kill many more.
At a disastrously low point of political power for us, those of us who believe that clinics and the patients who need them should be protected are tut-tutted as extremists for cops to watch out for. And in the middle of this upside-down, pernicious display of state power, pregnant people are scraping together money and facing harassment just to avoid having to give birth against their will.
Anyway, in conclusion:
It’s normal to wish to protect those who provide and receive abortion services.
It’s good to wish to protect those who provide and receive abortion services.
We must protect those who provide and receive abortion services.
… In fact, if you want to protect those who provide and receive abortion services, here’s how. Sign up at the link to become a clinic defender with us, come out to at least three clinic defenses a year, and make this work a regular part of your activist life. Let’s transform our movement from one of defense and fear to one of unapologetic grassroots action.