Violent, Extremist Anti-Choicers Are Flirting With The Department Of Justice

Will Sessions deny the advances of a radical anti-abortion group?

Post-Tea Party takeover, Republicans seem less and less willing to engage in the time-honored tradition of distancing themselves from those with on-the-record extremist views, even if they might agree with them privately. It seems, in fact, that some — white nationalist Steve Bannon, for example — with records of rattling off nearly incomprehensibly hateful and incendiary rhetoric are now being rewarded with access to the Oval Office itself.

Let’s hope the next extremist to weasel their way into a position of influence in the new administration isn’t Operation Rescue president Troy Newman.

Operation Rescue is most famous (or, depending on your moral code, infamous) for its affiliation with the man who shot and killed Dr. George Tiller in his church eight years ago. Long a target because he provided abortion care beyond 24 weeks, Tiller had been continually picketed and even shot over the three decades that he maintained a practice in Wichita, Kansas. When Newman became president of Operation Rescue in 1999, he turned up the heat on Tiller — making him well-known enough to warrant the attention of Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, who dubbed him “Tiller the baby killer.”

Now, Newman is offering to “assist” the newly confirmed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In a statement, he said:

“We congratulate Attorney General Sessions on his confirmation and stand ready to assist him with access to our research and documentation in prosecuting abortion abusers such as Planned Parenthood and Texas abortionist Douglas Karpen.”

Newman’s offer isn’t hollow. While it may actually be largely peddling misinformation (or at least selective information), Operation Rescue—a self-identified “leading pro-life Christian activist organization”—is well-funded and organized with devout followers; it undoubtedly has piles of aggregated information on those it’s targeted over the years. Should Sessions be interested — and his solidly anti-abortion record in the House indicates he might be — Newman’s files would be the mother lode.

This is potentially disturbing because the AG has significant power when it comes to protecting (or failing to protect) our nation’s reproductive health-care facilities, their staff, and their patients. The most important protection against harassment is the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act of 1994, which gives the Department of Justice (DOJ) the authority to “protect patients and health-care providers against threats of force and physical obstruction of reproductive health facilities.” The FACE Act without a DOJ willing to impose injunctions and penalties for violations is virtually meaningless. (Think of it like the Voting Rights Act, which still exists, but requires federal enforcement for it to have much of an effect on voter restrictions.)

The Attorney General has significant power when it comes to protecting (or failing to protect) our nation’s reproductive health-care facilities.

With any other administration, Newman’s offer to assist would be laughable — a hubris-driven ploy for attention. But this isn’t just any Attorney General. Sessions hasn’t exactly backed away from unsavory connections in the past; this is a man, after all, who has defended the KKK and earned the endorsement of its leader, David Duke.

At the same time, Sessions has revealed himself to be extreme in his anti-choice views. As I reported in December, our new AG has a 0% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America. When I spoke with NARAL National Communications Director Kaylie Hanson Long at the time of Sessions’ nomination, she cited the fact that he “has repeatedly given a pass to individuals who commit acts of violence against abortion clinics” as one cause for alarm. His track record includes voting against a 2015 bill that would have funded better security for abortion clinics, and opposing efforts to prevent anti-choice terrorists from manipulating bankruptcy laws to avoid paying fines for their crimes.

Our new Attorney General has a 0% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America.

All of which is to say: I am not filled with confidence that Sessions or the department he oversees would view Newman and his cohorts as undesirable associates.

The timing for this uncertainty couldn’t be worse. The latest Clinic Violence Survey from the Feminist Majority Foundation reports a significant uptick in harassment and severe violence. Providers and advocates have been bracing for an increase since the election, but the confirmation of Sessions and the rogue style the administration is using to “Make America Great Again” have made the climate more dangerous than anticipated.

As Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, put it bluntly in the survey press release:

“The hateful and violent rhetoric that is spouted constantly creates a hostile climate where violence thrives. We’ve been doing this survey since 1993 and seen time and time again that this rhetoric quickly escalates to threats. And when threats go up, violence occurs. You cannot consistently call women and doctors murderers and then escape responsibility when others are emboldened to commit violence.”

The FMF survey categorizes threats by severity, with death threats, stalking, and blocking clinic access ranked at the top. Between 2014 and 2016, that type of anti-abortion activity increased almost twofold, from 19.7% of providers to 34.2% of providers nationwide experiencing the most serious harassment. Half of the country’s abortion clinics had at least one break-in or other act of vandalism just in the first half of last year. A staggering 91.1% of clinics report anti-abortion activity of some type, and 63.2% on a weekly basis.

The latest Clinic Violence Survey reports a significant uptick in harassment and severe violence.

“Across the country women are forced to walk the gauntlet just to access health care at a whole host of different types of women’s health clinics,” Smeal said, referencing the picketing style developed by the Pro-Life Action League — an organization with deep ties to Operation Rescue. “The public must be aware that this is no ordinary protesting. As our 2016 survey shows, this hostile climate at women’s health clinics and towards healthcare workers is accompanied by an increase in severe violence and threats.”

Due to his recent “pro-life” conversion, our president may not be aware of the situation on the ground or Operation Rescue’s history of violence. But anyone with deep ties to the “pro-life” community — like Sessions — should be well-acquainted with the organization’s history and tactics. It’s not as though Newman and his cohorts have been bashful about what they believe and what their followers are called to do.

Miranda Blue outlined Newman’s scariest beliefs at The People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch in 2015 in a piece titled “Troy Newman’s Terrifying, Woman-Shaming, Apocalyptic Manifesto”:

“His ideology is perhaps most clearly spelled out in ‘Their Blood Cries Out,’ a book he published in 2000 and revised in 2003, that attempts to convince Christians to join the abortion ‘rescue’ movement in order to absolve the nation of its ‘bloodguilt’ for abortion and prevent God from destroying America in punishment.
Although ‘Their Blood Cries Out’ is now out of print, it has had some influence among anti-abortion activists. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life wrote the foreword to the 2003 edition. Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion terrorist who killed abortion provider George Tiller after spending time with Operation Rescue, had a signed copy. (There are long passages in the book comparing Tiller to Adolf Hitler.)”

Blue snarkily breaks down the six parts of Newman’s manifesto as: Execute Abortion Providers, … And Maybe Even The “Murderesses” Who Have Abortions, “No Comfort” For Women Until They Admit To “Murder,” “Abortion Is A Sacrifice To Demons,” 9/11 And AIDS Were God’s Warnings About Abortion, and If You Disagree, Enjoy Hell.

In that last section, Newman ominously addresses “those who are unconvinced that abortion is wrong, unwilling to admit any responsibility, or refuse to lay down their lives for the cause of righteousness”:

“Those in that unrepentant state are unable to discern God’s heart in this matter and will probably go to their grave blood-guilty, their souls corrupted with the innocent blood of murdered children. They can only look forward to the time when, at death, they will hear the innocent children howling their names in testimony against them, demanding vengeance.”

And that’s not even the most offensive of his rhetoric.

His section on abortion providers isn’t metaphor or hyperbole; Newman calls for the assassination of abortion providers, and he’s equipped his followers with an entire playbook, “Abortion Free: Your Manual for Building a Pro-Life America One Community at a Time,” for collecting the personal information of staff as well as patients to aid them in this effort. That playbook, published by the far-right outlet WorldNetDaily, was co-written by Cheryl Sullenger, who is just as extremist; she served jail time for conspiring to bomb a California clinic in the 1980s. While she and Newman both publicly claim that they now oppose violence, those claims are rather hollow considering the tactics they endorse.

It’s unlikely that we the people would be able to get the administration to pro-actively denounce (or even acknowledge) Newman’s offer, but we can ask our legislators to speak out. Extremist groups like Operation Rescue should have no part in crafting federal policy on anything.

“Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice turned a blind eye to abortion-related crimes, allowing abortion criminals to run amok over the lives of women and their babies,” Newman said. “We look forward to a new era of justice where the laws of the land are enforced against those within the Abortion Cartel that have behaved as if they are above them.”

Extremist groups like Operation Rescue should have no part in crafting federal policy on anything.

This “new era of justice,” which is already wreaking havoc around the country, must not encompass Newman’s tactics.

Tell your representatives that you expect them to pay close attention to our new AG, his policies, and who he associates with. Let them know that you’re counting on them to limit the damage of the administration and do everything they can to protect your access to health care — including the reproductive health clinics in your community.