Can you imagine how much greater the campaign scandal would have been if Bill Ayers, the former radical bomber who was linked to Barack Obama, and Obama were Facebook friends? That, no doubt, would have been considered evidence of a relationship, a sign of intimacy even. Of course, they weren't Facebook friends because that wasn't kind of relationship they had. But isn't it interesting that at least one leading anti-abortion activist who claims to be against the kind of violence that recently took the life of Dr. George Tiller is Facebook friends with some of the most virulently pro-violence anti-abortion crusaders that exist?
When PBS asked me to debate Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, I did a little research on him. I discovered his Facebook page and with it questions about those he consorts with, at least online, and consequently, questions about his sincerity. Newman has been in the news more than most anti-abortion leaders these days because his organization has been ensnared in the murder of Dr. Tiller, an abortion provider. Seven years ago, the group moved its headquarters to Wichita--to focus exclusively on protesting Tiller, his employees and his patients. In the days and weeks before the murder, alleged assassin Scott Roeder was in regular touch with Newman's second in command at Operation Rescue (who herself spent nearly two years in jail for conspiring to bomb an abortion clinic). A post-it note with her name and phone number was stuck to the dashboard of the Roeder's get-away car.
After the shooting, Operation Rescue was one of the first organizations out with a statement condemning and distancing itself from the act. The statement, released within a couple of hours after the murder, read,
"We denounce vigilantism and the cowardly act that took place this morning... Operation Rescue has diligently and successfully worked for years through peaceful, legal means, and through the proper channels to see to it that abortionists around the nation are brought to justice. Without due process, there can be no justice."
Newman has continued to make strong statements against violence. Most recently, in our PBS online debate, Newman claimed the murder of Dr. Tiller, "was not justice, but vigilantism, which must be abhorred by a society that embraces the rule of law over anarchy."
But, it appears that Newman feels friendly enough towards the supporters of just such vigilantism to make them his Facebook friends. He may want to officially distance himself and his organization from violence against providers, but he doesn't want to go as far as to stop socially networking with individuals who endorse it. Of the twenty people that Wikipedia lists as most associated with the Army of God, described as "an extremist anti-abortion organization that sanctions the use of force to combat abortion in the United States," Newman is Facebook friends with three. (Keep in mind, of the other 17 listed, three are currently in jail for killing abortion providers, and one is incarcerated for attempted murder.)
Dan Holman is one such friend. Holman told CNN he 'cheered" when he learned of the murder of Dr. Tiller. Holman, of Missionaries to the Pre-born, has long supported violence against abortion providers. He wrote on the website Army of God, "Those who object to the use of force to protect pre-born children do no truly believe in their humanity and worth!" He continued,
"To condemn the use of force to protect unborn children is a tacit admission that their lives are not worth defending. It is to say that that some have more of a Right to Life than others. It is a frank admission that pre-born children are somehow sub-human. If they truly believe the life of the unborn is worth less than the life of the abortionist than why defend the babies at all?"
About Paul Hill, who murdered abortion provider Dr. John Bayard Britton and James H. Barrett, a volunteer clinic escort, Holman seemed to lament that there are no suicide bombers in the anti-abortion cause. He writes,
"Most of us are not as courageous as Paul Hill. There are no Christian suicide bombers blowing up abortion clinics. We need to confess and acknowledge our lack of love toward God and the pre-born. It is wrong to vilify the courageous acts of Paul Hill to put our own weakness and cowardice in a better light."
Another Facebook friend Newman shares status updates with is Neal Horsley. The Guardian UK interviewed Horsley after the murder of Dr. Tiller. Horsley states,
"The thing about Tiller's assassination that was really appropriate is that they killed him in church. While he was there collecting the money, counting the money, his blood poured in to those thick carpets in that church. That was a fitting send off."
Matthew Trewhella, the third of Newman's pro-violence-against-providers Facebook friends, is a signatory of the infamous letter supporting the murders of abortion providers and calling for all charges be dropped against Michael Griffin, the assassin of Dr. David Gunn. The letter read,
"We, the undersigned, declare the justice of taking all godly action necessary to defend innocent human life including the use of force. We proclaim that whatever force is legitimate to defend the life of a born child is legitimate to defend the life of an unborn child. We assert that if Michael Griffin did in fact kill David Gunn, his use of lethal force was justifiable provided it was carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of unborn children. Therefore, he ought to be acquitted of the charges against him."
Newman, if he wishes to be taken seriously as an anti-abortion leader who is opposed to violence should, as a first step, break all ties with the small band of anti-abortion figures who cheer on murderers. You don't need a PR genius to tell you that. As I suggest to him in the debate, "You, more than anyone are poised to help prevent future acts of violence by alienating and condemning these forces or by helping to try to rehabilitate these extremists. Otherwise, all the anti-violence talk is simply meaningless." Rather than take this simple step, Newman has offered to buy Tiller's clinic to run operations out of, just the kind of victory lap that will be celebrated by his violent friends.
My PBS online debate with Troy Newman is here. They ask you to vote on who won. Troy has got the anti-abortion blogs driving his supporters to the site to vote which, at the time of this posting, seems to be working in his favor. Even though the voting doesn't end until Thursday, he's already claiming victory. Please take a look at the debate and vote!