But unlike a lot of people, I don't automatically condemn political violence. I think that, if a cause is just and legal opposition to it is of limited effectiveness, there is nothing wrong with using violence against those who are normal, law-abiding citizens of a country in order to push a political agenda. To cite two obvious examples, American rebels fought a terribly violent war against their legally appointed British rulers, and the French Resistance frequently used terrorist methods to disrupt and murder the legal Nazi and Vichy governments. Few people today outside of pro-Confederacy extremists think that the U.S. government was not justified in using violence to force the South to end the practice of legal slavery. There are more extreme examples, all of which I support to a greater or lesser degree: the anti-slavery violence of John Brown and other abolitionists; the violent anarchist armies of Russia and Spain in the early 20th century; terrorism against Israel by Palestinians and against South Africa by blacks; violence against the police and military in many countries, and revolutionary violence almost everywhere; and the long history of violent attacks against capital by labor in this country and elsewhere.
Some of you probably would condemn my later examples; most of you would probably support my earlier ones. But few of you probably are complete pacifist; few of you would doubt the notion that there is a greater morality than that of the law, and that there are circumstances under which, if your notion of morality or propriety is pushed beyond what can be borne, you would support direct action against those you perceived as committing egregious offense against those notions. So really, the only difference between the French resister who murders a Nazi officer and the pro-life activist who murders an abortion doctor is that you happen to agree that the Nazi officer deserves killing because he is doing such a bad thing, while you don't happen to agree that the abortion doctor deserves killing because he is doing such a bad thing.
And that's fine! I'm a relativist, after all; while I don't believe that any universal authority can be appealed to that will support my belief in the use of violence against an occupying army but not against an abortion provider, I still think that belief is correct. I won't call anyone a hypocrite for thinking the killing of a pro-apartheid judge is justifiable while the killing of a clinic nurse is offensive, because like everyone else, I hold to a set of moral tenets that I think are correct. I just happen to recognize that those people are thinking the same thing I am, and that they're no more or less right than I am. I think our value systems are locked in a serious struggle, and while I hope mine wins, that's just because I'm rooting for a different outcome than they are; if I give them the benefit of the doubt, if I extend them the courtesy of believing they are acting in good faith, I can condemn their actions without necessarily impugning their motivations. (They wouldn't extend me the same courtesy, of course, but there's not much I can do about that.)
So why do I have such a visceral reaction against things like the killing of George Tiller? I suppose it's because they enjoy a sort of double standard that is not granted to other practitioners of political violence. When the government declares al-Q'aeda and other practitioners of anti-American Islamist violence a terrorist group, we seize their assets; we shut down their charities and media outlets; we arrest as many of them as we can and charge them with whatever we think will stick. But when the advocates of anti-abortion violence -- whose actions cannot be regarded as anything but terroristic -- do the same thing, the government treats it like a string of barely-related events, no matter how organized, no matter how connected. Domestic Islamic terrorism barely exists in this country, and yet it is the subject of intense scrutiny, tight monitoring, and severe proactive law enforcement. Anti-abortion violence, on the other hand, which has cost many more lives, is barely even talked about in law enforcement and government policy. Whenever one of these incidents take place, spokesmen from anti-abortion groups are allowed to go on national television and tut-tut that while they don't necessarily condone the killing, they can certainly understand it, what with the victim being a mass murderer and all. Can you imagine, after a suicide bombing in Times Square, a spokesman for an American Islamist group being allowed on prime time to bitch about how America had it coming? Anti-abortionists are allowed to communicate their messages, finance their groups, and praise their killers without any legal ramifications, something that, say, Islamist, eco-terrorist, or radical leftists groups cannot do. Anti-abortion activists count among their number some of the richest and most influential broadcasters in the country; many have TV shows, radio shows, nationally syndicated columns, and audiences with senators and congressmen. Where are the Islamic fundamentalists in America who are thus indulged? There is much talk of this or that political action or inaction "emboldening" the Mahometan terrorist, but I can guarantee you that nothing emboldens the domestic white anti-abortion terrorist like the utter lack of seriousness with which his crimes are treated.
The French Resistance, the Molly Maguires, the men of Hezbollah -- they may be no more heroic, or even substantially less, than these murdering Christian zealots. But they at least had the good taste to act as if they were doing a dangerous, horrible, and distasteful thing that no one else was willing to do. Their leaders did not go before the public the next day, dressed in their finest TV clothes, and demand to be recognized for the moral beauty and ethical perfection of their actions. They did not behave as if laws meant to prevent their activities were an unfair imposition foisted upon them by muddle-headed bureaucrats. They did not stand around waiting for someone to congratulate them, nor did they act shocked when the forces they opposed instead stood as one to condemn them. If the anti-abortionist killers share with my own favored practitioners of the bloody arts a courageous conviction that their foul deeds were justified by the far greater evils committed by their victims, they diverge by daring to take offense at the very idea anyone might deign to object.