After the shooting deaths of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller last month and security guard Stephen T. Johns at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum last week, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would receive an e-mail like one sent from Ann Pinkerton of Oakland: "Several weeks ago, I wrote you because I thought you dismissed the Homeland Security Report on right-wing extremism unfairly. Since then, Dr. George Tiller has been shot and killed, and a security guard at the Holocaust Museum has been shot and killed. Both of these acts were acts of right-wing terrorism on domestic soil. Have you reassessed your opinions in light of these attacks?"
The short answer is no. For one thing, Pinkerton didn't mention the Monday shooting that killed Pvt. William Andrew Long, a military recruiter, and wounded Pvt. Quinton Ezeagwula outside the Army-Navy Career Center in Little Rock, Ark. The man charged in the shooting, Abdulhakim Muhammad, told the Associated Press, "I do feel I'm not guilty.
"I don't think it was murder, because murder is when a person kills another person without justified reason." The former Carlos Bledsoe defined the shooting as an "act, for the sake of God, for the sake of Allah, the Lord of all the world, and also retaliation on U.S. military."
Now I understand why Pinkerton might have missed the left-wing shooting of a military recruiter. The Tiller assassination garnered three stories, an editorial and a column (mine) over the following two days, and a week later a front-page story, whereas The Chronicle ran two national briefs about the military-recruiter attack, on Page A5 one day, and Page A6 the next. Other media underplayed the domestic terrorist attack as well.
For me, the reason is pretty obvious: Stories that reinforce journalists' political beliefs rate the front page or top of their newscasts; stories that do not are not considered big news. Chronicle Managing Editor Steve Proctor told me he disagrees: "People do not make decisions like that based on their political beliefs."
Oh, and when shooters -- take convicted Beltway snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo -- espouse anti-American, pro-terrorist politics, news stories focus on their mental health or personal issues, not their destructive political philosophy. When the feds arrest Islamic extremists, the press reports that an informer may have entrapped the would-be bombers, rather than explore the twisted thinking that motivated fledgling terrorists.
Painful as it is, I have to admit that Scott Roeder, who is charged with murdering Tiller, is a creature of the right. He is a nut, but a right-wing nut. And for that reason, anti-abortion activists must shun all like-believers who espouse or condone violence.
And by the way, the April Department of Homeland Security report to which Pinkerton referred, "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," served no law enforcement value because it failed to name any dangerous groups, but instead targeted suspect political thought -- such as "groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as abortion or immigration." If the memo had named "Dangerous Activists" or outlined criminal behavior which law enforcement could prosecute -- as an earlier memo on left-wing animal-rights and environmental extremists did -- then the memo could have been useful, not heavy-handed and sophomoric.
But I reject the idea that James W. von Brunn, the alleged Holocaust museum gunman and known white supremacist and anti-Semite, is right wing -- as well as the implication that racism and conservatism somehow are connected. The KKK is not welcome at any conservative event I've ever attended.
Heidi Beirich, director of research for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told me she understands my frustration in seeing von Brunn's bigotry pegged as right-thinking. "Being a racist is not part of mainstream politics," she acknowledged. And: "I wouldn't call it conservative. I call it right-wing extremism." The anti-Semitism von Brunn espoused was championed by conservatives before World War II, she explained, and men like von Brunn "self-identify as conservatives."
Von Brunn probably thinks he is a patriot, too -- but that doesn't mean anyone should call him a patriotic extremist. If anything, von Brunn seems to have arrived at the very fringe where far left and far right unite. According to Politico's Ben Smith, von Brunn believed George W. Bush may have been in on the Sept. 11 attacks and the FBI found the address of the neoconservative Weekly Standard on a piece of paper associated with him. The FBI also found a note in his car that said, "Obama was created by Jews."
On the left last week, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright told columnist David Squires of the Daily Press in Virginia that "the Jewish vote, the A-I-P-A-C vote"" is "controlling" President Obama. And: "Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me." Flabby minds think alike.
There is such a thing as being so far to the right or to the left that the only destination you can attain with any certainty is the bottom.