When a person who has been targeted before is murdered, as Dr. George Tiller was, there are a lot of what ifs.
What if, back in the 1990s, after the first attempt on Tiller's life, mainstream media had overcome their reluctance to report on violence against abortion providers?
What if, way back then, they'd called the violence by its rightful name: domestic terrorism?
What if, when Dr. David Gunn was shot down in Pensacola Florida in 1993, the newspapers of record hadn't covered that story as if Gunn and his killer were somehow equivalent? "Both Impassioned" as the Washington Post put it. That's not how they talked about 9-11. Passion on both sides? Not in the least.
What if Bill O'Reilly hadn't so often referred to Tiller as a baby killer? What if he'd been pulled off the air for incitement. What if?
Perhaps most urgently, what if we had law-enforcement that took the violent margins of the conservative movement as seriously, as say, the property-damagers of the environmental fringe? (For most of the last decade, the FBI's top priority domestic terror threat was "eco-terrorism")
On his Americablog, right-wing watcher John Aravosis has been talking for weeks about a new line coming out of the radical right. In the debate over extending the hates crimes protections to LGBT people, extreme right fundamentalist Christian leaders could be heard calling for an exemption for their "right" to kill, "provided they claim the murder was inspired by their faith," Aravosis wrote on May 22.
On Monday, that language appeared in the New York Times.
Commenting on Dr. Tiller's death, Dave Leach, an anti-choice activist from Des Moines who runs the newsletter Prayer and Action News said, "to call this a crime is too simplistic. There is Christian scripture that would support this."
Crazy? Yes. To be ignored? Absolutely not. Homeland Security was right to list extreme anti-choice groups in its report on Domestic Terror threats. If Obama had held firm in the face of the criticism last month, he'd be soaking up the commendations now. Instead the administration backed off in face of a flack-attack from right-wing pundits.
Now a man is dead, and, as John put it, "an American church has been shot up during services." And some – like John – can't help but wonder -- what if the Obama administration had sent a different message?
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders the host of GRITtv, which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, public television and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com.