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Don’t Assume Tiller’s Killer Acted Alone

In a powerful and incisive show focused on the murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, Rachel Maddow interviewed George Washington University constitutional law scholar Jonathan Turley Monday about how the government can not only prosecute Tiller’s murderer, but also investigate the role of the many right-wing anti-abortion zealots who helped incite the murder — which Maddow aptly called a form of domestic terrorism.

But Turley, a civil libertarian, wasn’t going there. He insisted that the right to free speech trumps the incitement to violence. In Turley’s view, even calling for the murder of an abortion provider should not be cause for investigation, and we must accept that people like alleged Tiller murderer Scott Roeder are “lone actors” who often cannot be stopped.

Well, that’s exactly the sort of assumption that lawyers who defend abortion providers hope the federal government will not be making.

“It should not be presumed that this was the lone act of somebody who is opposed to abortion,” Janet Crepps, deputy director of the Center for Reproductive Rights’ legal program told me on Monday. “It should be investigated to determine whether or not he was working with other people and whether this is part of a larger plan to commit acts against other abortion providers.”

While that might seem like an obvious suggestion, Turley insistence that Tiller’s murderer was a “lone actor” suggests that may be the approach that law enforcement — or at least civil libertarians, who generally don’t want to hold individuals criminally liable for their speech — may be taking. But given the nationwide network of radical anti-abortion advocates that have openly advocated violence and murder, as Maddow and her guest Frank Schaeffer pointed out in chilling detail, it would be nonsensical to assume that a man like Roeder, a known anti-abortion activist, if he is the shooter, was acting on his own.

“At this point we don’t know, but if you look at the context of abortion violence in this country, and we’ve heard anecdotally, it just needs to be considered that this is part of a big plan and at least investigated,” said Crepps.

Crepps was optimistic that the Obama administration will eventually take anti-abortion violence seriously. But she also noted that the vigorous enforcement of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, known as FACE, begun by Attorney General Janet Reno in the Clinton administration, was quickly dropped by the Bush administration — which dismantled the Justice Department’s task force that had been coordinating responses to clinic violence and its prevention.

The Obama administration could recreate that task force, which is particularly important because state enforcement of the laws protecting clinic workers and women seeking abortions has been “inconsistent” at best, said Crepps. It’s been particularly lax in states with strong anti-abortion movements, where cracking down on those who block clinic entrances or threaten doctors can be politically unpopular.

But there’s one problem with this plan: FACE enforcement was led by the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division; and so far, there’s still no one heading that office.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on the nomination of Tom Perez, President Obama’s nominee to head the Civil Rights Division. His quick confirmation could be the beginning of the federal government’s effort to get back into the business of vigorously protecting the safety of both abortion providers and the women who hope to gain access to them.

*TWI is on Twitter. Please follow us here. *

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