What do Scott Roeder, the alleged killer of abortion doctor George Tiller, Richard Poplawski, arrested in April for ambushing four police officers in Pittsburgh, killing three and injuring one, and Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association all have common?
They all believe that "the guys with the guns make the rules"--the rallying cry LaPierre offered attendees at this year's CPAC convention. LaPierre's red-meat statements to pro-gun activists--cynical, incendiary bafflegab designed to anger up their hearts and open up their wallets--has effects that go far beyond the NRA's own political and financial interests. The NRA likes to brag about its alleged four million members and its ability to sway a compliant Congress with the merest hint of displeasure. But when asked whether it should ever be held accountable for the effect its language (both as potential instigator and chronic validator) has on the fringe of American gun ownership its public response is a surprised, "Who, me?"
On the rare occasions when it has been called to account--for example, when during the Clinton Administration it stated that the "final war has begun" and former member Timothy McVeigh took the organization at its word, blowing up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City--the organization has made slight tacks in its language (so long "final war," hello "culture war") but has always retained the disparate combination of bullying and paranoia evident in LaPierre's words
The danger lies in the literal interpretation of LaPierre's statement and the NRA's publications. According to the Wichita Eagle, "Those who know Roeder said he believed that killing abortion doctors was an act of justifiable homicide." The Eagle also reports that Roeder had at one time been a member of the anti-government "Freemen" movement. Poplawski feared the Obama administration would ban his guns. According to news reports, "One friend, Edward Perkovic, said Poplawski feared 'the Obama gun ban that's on the way' and 'didn't like our rights being infringed upon.'"
Right now there is a consensus that our nation--from the president down to the cop on the beat--is at increased risk of violence from extremist organizations. And each time a smoldering ember sparks resulting in death and injury, the question that should be asked is who is fanning the flames?