In the wake of continued shootings – including those at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis and at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs – Political Research Associates offers our condolences to those affected by these acts of violence. In solidarity with the movements for Black lives and reproductive justice, we condemn these horrific acts and reaffirm our commitment to supporting human rights defenders through our work.
For over 30 years PRA has analyzed and challenged attacks on reproductive and racial justice, including the potentially deadly consequences of demonizing rhetoric used by established right-wing organizations and spokespeople.
In our report Toxic to Democracy: Conspiracy Theories, Demonization, and Scapegoating, author Chip Berlet explains how demonizing rhetoric can lead to violent acts:
“Right-wing pundits demonize scapegoated groups and individuals in our society, implying that it is urgent to stop them from wrecking the nation. Some angry people in the audience already believe conspiracy theories in which the same scapegoats are portrayed as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action mandatory and you have a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States.
“The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd but nonetheless influential conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims, and demonized targets…and this creates a milieu where violence is a likely outcome.”
After alleged gunman, Robert Lewis Dear, was arrested for killing three people and leaving nine others wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, he reportedly declared “no more baby parts.” His statement invokes the ubiquitous and completely unsubstantiated charges by Christian Right figures and Republican Party politicians that Planned Parenthood profited from the sale of fetal tissue. According to news reports, Dear has praised the far-right Army of God, which has been involved in anti-abortion bombings and murders.
PRA’s 2013 Activist Resource Kit on Defending Reproductive Justice, points out that “while many antichoice groups condemn violence, they also use inflammatory language that can encourage violent acts, and may suggest hidden sympathies. Increased rhetoric from the Right is linked to increased violence from the hard-Right against clinics and providers.”
The alleged shooters at the Minneapolis Black Lives Matter demonstration include supporters of hard-right “sovereign citizen” and III% movements. Two of the accused shooters filmed their preparations for the confrontation, replete with declarations of “Stay White!” A Black Lives Matter protester was also recently assaulted at a Donald Trump presidential campaign rally. Kay Whitlock, author of PRA discussion paper Reconsidering Hate, (and co-author of the 2015 book Considering Hate) urges us to break the habit of labeling perpetrators of right-wing violence as irrational individuals or fringe groups motivated by “hate” without examining their relationships to the everyday reality of structural violence and discriminatory institutions.
Whitlock challenges the idea that “hate is perpetrated by extremists, misfits, and loners who are violating agreed-upon standards of fairness, and that hate violence is unacceptable and abhorrent to respectable society. In fact, what is called ‘hate violence’—violence directed at vulnerable and marginalized groups—is not abhorrent to respectable society. On the contrary, respectable society has provided the models, policies, and practices that marginalize people of color, queers, disabled people, and in many respects, women. The hate frame disappears considerations of structural violence and substitutes in their place the idea that there are these crazed extremists, and that’s who we have to go after.”
We offer the following resources to journalists, advocates, and people of good will who seek to understand the relationship between right-wing demonization and violent acts:
- Interview with Kay Whitlock, author of Considering Hate and PRA discussion paper, Reconsidering Hate.
- Extremism, Conspiracy Theory, and Murder: Chip Berlet interviewed on NPR’s “Fresh Air” with Terry Gross, from 2009.
- 2014 interview of PRA research fellow Rachel Tabachnick by “Between The Lines” host Scott Harris on the rising tide of violence and violent rhetoric on the Religious Right.
- Toxic to Democracy, a special report by former PRA senior analyst Chip Berlet.
- Defending Reproductive Justice, a PRA Activist Resource Kit (updated 2013).
- PRA senior research fellow Frederick Clarkson’s articles on white supremacists and anti-abortion militants for the Southern Poverty Law Center here and here.