The best way to deal with the violent fringe: confront or ignore?

So, “Paul Hill Days” has* come and gone. I’m pleased, though not a bit surprised, to learn that turnout was poor: the murder cheerleaders were able to scrape up sixty people for their parade only by dragging along their children. The re-enactment of Hill’s crime was even more sparsely attended. I’ve seen video online, and there appeared to be about twenty-five people there. Maybe a few more if you count the gawkers in the background.

I’ve discussed this subject with many very reasonable, absolutely anti-violence people who argue that Hill’s admirers should be given as little attention or acknowledgment as possible. The people behind this event are a tiny fringe, they say. They have a martyr complex that we probably feed by speaking out against them. They have a desire for publicity that we definitely feed by speaking out against them.

All that is true, and if these were just people spouting off ugly opinions on the Internet, I might agree that the best thing to do is ignore them. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here. The organizers of “Paul Hill Days” celebrate and associate with people who have proven their willingness to kill. It would only take one of them being inspired to action by this rally for more murders to take place.

Wisconsin Right to Life (the Wisconsin affiliate of National Right to Life) issued a press release denouncing “Paul Hill Days”. (You can thank them here.) Pro-Life Wisconsin (an associate of American Life League) did not:

When asked why Pro-Life Wisconsin did not denounce the event, Hamill said her organization did not want to get involved.

“We only speak on what our organization is doing,” Hamill said. “We’re not about to comment on what other organizations are doing.”

That’s just wrong. As I mentioned above, there are perfectly good reasons why not every pro-life organization issues a statement every time some marginal figure says something crazy enough to make the news. But this was a celebration of the murder of two people that was taking place in PLW’s own backyard, in the name of their cause. To refuse to speak against it even when asked point-blank goes beyond merely “not commenting on other groups” and comes dangerously close to tacit approval.

To Pro-Life Wisconsin: your representatives could have refused to comment on any specific activities while emphasizing your own group’s stand against violence. They could have gone further and stated that since using violence against abortion providers is contrary to the goals of your organization, people who support it should neither join nor donate money to Pro-Life Wisconsin. All this, without once mentioning any other group.

[Planned Parenthood spokesperson Lisa] Boyce also noted that while WRTL condemned Paul Hill Days, its press release provided enough information about the event and its organizers to allow supporters to seek out more information and attend it.

That’s also just wrong. Wisconsin Right to Life’s statement may not have been as strong as I might have liked. (Personally, I think an in-person protest would have been appropriate.) But, well, National Right to Life has a pretty stodgy institutional personality, and WRTL’s statement is actually more strongly worded than I’d expect from one of their affiliates. They’re just not fire-breathers, you know? There’s absolutely no reason to believe that the statement was anything but sincere. For Boyce to hint otherwise is just a cheap attempt to score political points by implying that the pro-violence forces actually have a lot of secret support among regular pro-lifers — a falsehood which some of the pro-violence forces believe as well, and which gives them aid and comfort.

The danger of condemning something loudly and publicly is that by doing so, we bring more attention to it. I’ve long been opposed to the disproportionate press coverage given to certain figures who are famous for promoting the “justifiable homicide” theory. I feel that interviewing these people and treating them as though they’re a major force in the pro-life movement just gives them more of a platform for spreading their views.

So, for WRTL to provide specific information about “Paul Hill Days” in their press release (and really, they didn’t provide very much), or for me to link to their web site, may have been a tactical error. Maybe it would be better to follow the example of many anti-racists, who refuse to link to sites such as Stormfront when discussing them. I’m not convinced, though. I believe it’s vital for pro-lifers to denounce violence, and to do it not just in general terms but to confront promoters of violence with our opposition, so that they know they don’t have our unspoken support. That might be worth giving them a little more attention in the process.

* Grammarians, please advise: “have” or “has”? “Days” is, of course, plural, but the overall event is singular**.

** And thank goodness it is.

3 thoughts on “The best way to deal with the violent fringe: confront or ignore?

  1. P.S. You might want to check out the conversation I’ve been participating in at TAPPED. The post is called “Centrist Abortion Regulations Don’t Work”, but the more interesting material is in the comments.

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