“Let everyone regulate his conduct… by the golden rule of doing to others as in similar circumstances we would have them do to us, and the path of duty will be clear before him.” William Wilberforce
The past two weeks have been a watershed in modern American History. For the first time in memory we have had a series of ideological, political and religious murders committed by men who believed that their actions were justifiable homicide. The first was the murder of a physician who had a fair amount of his practice devoted to abortions including late term abortions. George Teller was killed by Scott Roeder a militant anti-government member of the Freemen and a fringe player in anti-abortion groups who was influenced by the militant anti-abortion group The Army of God which believes in justifiable homicide. The murder was in Tiller’s church. The clinic which Tiller operated is being shut down by his family. Roeder believes it a victory but many in the pro-life movement are concerned that it will lead to crackdown on mainstream pro-lifers, and also that the closing of the Tiller clinic could lead to similar attacks by those emboldened by Roeder’s action.
The second killing was that of Army Pvt. William Long outside of a recruiting station in Little Rock. The confessed murderer used an assault rifle to kill Pvt. Long and wound another soldier serving as home town recruiters prior to reporting to their unit following their initial entry training. The suspects, an American convert to Islam named Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he didn’t consider the killing a murder because U.S. military action in the Middle East made the killing justified. “I don’t think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason.” Mujahid Muhammad warned soldiers and their families in the US that they were also targets: “The battlefield is not just in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Muhammad says. “A battlefield is anywhere we see you at. And those people in the Army and those families of the people in the Army and the military and personnel all over the country, if you don’t want to die or get shot for this so called war on terrorism, war on Islam, then get out of the Army. Get out of the Army and don’t walk, run.” This attack followed other attacks on recruiting stations including the bombing of the Armed Forces Recruiting station in Times Square last year.
The most recent attack occurred today as an 88 year old White Supremacist and Holocaust denier James Von Brunn walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum killing a guard. Von Brunn’s sites as well as other Neo-Nazi websites such as Stormfront prominently spew Von Brunn’s hatred toward minorities in the United States. His book, “Kill The Best Gentiles,” embraces Adolf Hitler’s view that Jews concocted World War I as part of a scheme to stab Germany in the back — a myth the Nazis used to justify the Holocaust. He is called an “independent investigator by some and has issued statements on the citizenship controversy pushed by some on the far Right about President Obama’s eligibility to serve as President and comments about the religion of then CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks.
All three of these men evidently believe in justifiable homicide and are willing to kill for their ideological or religious beliefs. What makes this sudden spike in assassination for ideological reasons significant is that the nation is polarized by the extreme Right and extreme Left which both see the world and their causes no matter what they are in black and white terms. There is no intent by any extreme group to dialogue or find compromise with their opponents, even if such compromise would gain them at least part of what they want. Instead, the rhetoric of the extremes has continued to increase and find airtime on supposedly “mainstream” media outlets both liberal and conservative. This provides some manner of legitimacy to the extremist groups even as their more boisterous political and media supporters ratchet up the rhetoric. This makes for an incredibly volatile situation which is fraught with danger for all as more and more people see violence, including justifiable homicide as a legitimate option to push their agenda. In our country we cannot forget that John Brown, though right in his desire to end slavery engaged in tactics which helped push the country to civil war, a war that while freeing African-Americans from the yoke of slavery imposed a yoke nearly as heavy on them, know as Jim Crow laws that lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Voting Rights Act of 1964. Even still racism is still a reality for many blacks and other minorities. Brown’s desire to end slavery may have been righteous but he destroyed the political center which could have ended it peacefully in time just as William Wilberforce and his allies in Parliament had done in England.
The perilous situation that exists now is that which erodes the center on which all depend on to hold. Neither Left Wing or Right Wing extremists give a damn about the majority who are somewhere in between. As a passionate moderate I see this as a dangerous trend. In Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s both the Communists and Nazis polarized the nation. The more moderate Social Democrats, Catholic Center Party and other smaller middle of the road parties were marginalized as time went on. Eventually the Nazis won that power struggle with dire consequences which extended far beyond Germany. As the rhetoric rises and those who justify violence be it against people, institutions or property are emboldened to act it will further fracture the middle. It is imperative that the Center to hold, as Edmund Burke said: “All it needs for evil to prosper is for people of goodwill to do nothing.”
These actions could well be harbingers of things to come. What is even more concerning as they take place at a time of worldwide economic crisis when we have hundreds of thousands of troops deployed to war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, North Korea rattling sabers and several critical nations, some with nuclear weapons on the brink of collapse, failure or civil war. I pray that men and women of goodwill and courage arise in the center and passionately advocate not for a particular party or cause, but the good of all. People of faith need to pray not for a particular political resolution favorable to them, but for God’s peace and healing in our country.