Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Over the past few weeks we have seen heinous acts of terrorism committed by people who believed that what they were doing was the will of God. They believed that their killing of innocent people was justified by their religious beliefs and their belief that they were the instruments of God to bring about God’s justice on sinners. But these are just the latest in a long series of such events in this country and around the world.
The people who commit the acts are certainly guilty of them, of this there is no doubt, but what about those from whom they draw their inspiration? Why are they not in the dock as well?
In the movie Judgement at Nuremberg, Spencer Tracy’s character, Judge Dan Heywood said, “The principle of criminal law in every civilized society has this in common: Any person who sways another to commit murder, any person who furnishes the lethal weapon for the purpose of the crime. Any person who is an accessory to the crime, is guilty.”
At the trial of the major war criminals the Nazi propagandist Julius Streicher was condemned to death for crimes against humanity. He had never killed a Jew, nor was he active in planning the war. However, it was the incessant propaganda that Streicher published week after week for twenty-five years which made him an accessory to the deaths of millions of people. A generation of Germans who had been brought up on Streicher’s anti-Semitic hate speech committed acts “so vast and heinous that they beggar the imagination.”
The tribunal said of Streicher:
“For his 25 years of speaking, writing, and preaching hatred of the Jews, Streicher was widely known as ‘Jew-baiter Number 1.’ In his speeches and articles, week after week, month after month, he infected the German people with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution… Streicher had charge of the Jewish boycott of April 1, 1933. He advocated the Nuremberg decrees of 1935. He was responsible for the demolition on August 10, 1938, of the synagogue in Nuremberg. And on November 10, 1938, he spoke publically in support of the Jewish pogroms which were taking place at that time. But it was not only in Germany that this defendant advocated his doctrines. As early as 1935 he began to call for the annihilation of the Jewish race… With knowledge of the extermination of the Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territories, this defendant continued to write and publish the propaganda of death… Streciher’s incitement to murder and extermination at the time when the Jews of the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on racial grounds in connection with war crimes, as defined in the charter, and constitutes a crime against humanity.”
“The defendant Streicher is an accessory to the persecution of the Jews within Germany and in occupied territories which culminated in mass murder of an estimated six million men, women, and children. The propaganda in Der Stürmer and other Streicher publications, for which he had admitted responsibility, was of a character calculated to stir up fanatic fear and hatred of the Jewish people and to incite to murder…Through propaganda designed to incite hatred and fear, defendant Streicher devoted himself, over a period of twenty-five years, to creating the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder. This alone would suffice to establish his guilt as an accessory to the criminal program of extermination.”
There are propagandists like Streicher at work in our own country and around the world today, who have for years advocated the exclusion, persecution, and even the execution of people whose lifestyles, religion, faith, or race, in this country and in others and we have seen the results. However, when a crime is committed against the targets of these propagandists they are seldom held accountable, in fact I cannot recall a time in recent memory where those who planted and nurtured the seeds of hate in the hearts and minds of terrorists have been brought to court. Why are not the propagandists who the Muslim terrorists who killed over 130 people in Paris and 14 in San Bernardino, the Tsarnaev brothers who attacked the Boston Marathon, the 9-11 attackers brought to trial? Why are those who inspired the Christian terrorists who killed and wounded a dozen people at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic, or Eric Rudolph to bomb the Olympic Park in Atlanta not brought up on charges? What about those that inspired Dylann Storm Roof, the young white supremacist/neo-Confederate terrorist who killed nine people at the Emmanuel AME church in Charleston brought to justice? There are those who also attack, vandalize, burn, or desecrate churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious shrines or schools, of course in the name of God. But I think that one of the most terrifying comments by a terrorist were those of Frazier Glenn Cross, a former KKK leader and militant white supremacist that killed three people near a Jewish Community center in Overland Park Kansas on the Eve of Passover, 2014. He claimed, “I had no criminal intent, I had a patriotic intent to stop genocide against my people,” and “I hate Jews…. They are the ones who destroy us.” He was convicted of the crime and sentenced to death.
I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but I know that in the United States that propagandists of all kinds, often hide behind our most cherished freedoms; those of freedom of speech, religion, and association, to proclaim their message of violence and murder in the name of God or their own perverted ideologies. We may never bring these people to trial, but they are by definition as guilty as the men and women who follow their words and commit these terrible crimes.
The scary thing is that what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg the hatred is flowing, and as Randall Terry, the former head of Operation Rescue once exhorted his followers in 1993, “Let a wave of intolerance wash over you. I want you to let a wave of hatred wash over you. Yes, hate is good…. If a Christian voted for Clinton, he sinned against God. It’s that simple…. Our goal is a Christian Nation… we have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don’t want equal time. We don’t want Pluralism. We want theocracy. Theocracy means God rules. I’ve got a hot flash. God rules.” [Randall Terry, Head of Operation Rescue, from The News Sentinel, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Aug 15, 1993]
The scary thing is that I went to the same church that Randall Terry attended for a while when I was stationed in Jacksonville Florida. The church of my former denomination, was a bastion of the “pro-life” movement. To be honest many of the people in the church were good people, but they were taken along by the propaganda of men like Randall Terry and others. I got to know Randall when I was there. He is a very smart and affable person, that being said, he had no empathy for any opponents, including his adopted son Jamiel who came out as Gay in 2004, or his two adopted daughters who became pregnant outside of marriage who he threw out of his home, with no-one in the pro-life movement to support them. He remains virulent in his bombastic statements about murdering abortion providers, punishing gays, and making blatantly racist political advertisements, and anti-Muslim videos.
I guess the thing that troubles me most about this now is how my former church embraced a man who was a well known extremist, a man who had left his wife for his secretary and then married her with no serious questions asked because they too were “pro-life.” It was as if Terry was some kind of folk hero to them. Interestingly enough Terry converted to Roman Catholicism a few years later and has had no problem attacking the leaders of that church when they fail to heed his uncompromising views, even so the leaders of that church not only welcomed him, but have not dared to discipline hi, even after his wife committed acts of vandalism on church property. But then, like them, Terry is “pro-life.”
When I was going to that church I found Terry’s methods and words to be extreme and they troubled me, but I said nothing to oppose or contradict them. If I had spoken out I would have been punished by the local bishop, and having been censured for my earlier writings in a theological journal which were considered “too Catholic” by another bishop of that church, I kept my mouth shut.
It was not until I came back from Iraq having seen the real world implications of what happens when religious fanatics inflict violence on their neighbors that I really understood and took a stand against such words and actions. It was only after I began to speak up against the church’s positions on rights for Gays and the LGBTQ community, the ordination of women, respect for Muslims, and the need to protect the legality of abortion that I was forced out of that church for being “too liberal.” You should have read some of the things that people said about me when I started speaking out after being thrown out of the church. It was amazing, I shake my head now, but then when I was still in the midst of post-Iraq PTSD crash the comments were very hurtful and destructive, and sadly the people who said them, many who knew me, didn’t seem to care.
Randall Terry and so many others like him, be they Christian, Muslim, or any other religion or ideology are no different than Julius Streicher. What they are preaching is nothing more than hate, masked in the words of faith, which has been, and will continue to be used by terrorists. Terry is not the only one out there doing this, there are thousands of others like him, and many with much more of a following than Terry will ever command, and they are for more dangerous for their words will be the ones that terrorists will follow, and for which death squads will kill. They, like the tribunal said of Streicher create “the psychological basis essential to carrying through a program of mass murder.” For this reason, and every murder their followers commit they should be held accountable.
At Nuremberg an unrepentant Streicher was asked by a prosecutor, “And do you think to call them “blood-suckers,” “a nation of blood-suckers and extortioners“– do you think that’s preaching hatred?” Streicher replied, “No, it is not preaching hatred; it is just a statement of facts.” Sadly, this is the same attitude shared by the vast majority of the current propagandists. It does not matter who they demonize, gays, women, Christians, Jews. Muslims, immigrants, the targets of hate may differ for each of these propagandists, but the message is the same, it is hatred pure and simple.