Stephen Singular, author of The Wichita Divide, discusses the killing of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller and the recent Tucson shooting.
What inspired you to write about the rise of domestic terrorism within the antiabortion movement?
Twenty-five years ago I wrote about [Denver radio] talk show host Alan Berg's murder in Talked to Death. The Berg assassination was domestic terrorism because it carried out a racial and religious agenda. There are similarities [with the Tiller case], but I was more interested in the differences. For years I'd wanted to write a sequel to Talked to Death, but the time wasn't right. Then Dr. Tiller was killed. Sometimes a single crime can illuminate an entire war that a nation has been fighting. This was that crime. I didn't want to write the history of abortion in America or a book that simply laid out the two sides of the debate. My book weaves together Dr. Tiller's career and the evolution of [his murderer] Scott Roeder from a seemingly normal Middle American into a domestic terrorist. But to me the heart of the book is Lindsey Roeder, Scott's ex-wife, who watched in horror as he changed, but couldn't help him. Every story needs someone to root for, and for me, that's Lindsey.
You pinpoint the media as "amplifier[s] for the emotional forces building in the society." How have these outlets helped perpetuate the culture of hate?
The point I want to re-emphasize is that the uncertainty and fear that people feel are real. But these are largely personal emotions and it's the individual's responsibility to manage them. The talk shows and Internet groups have essentially stood this equation on its head. "Here are the issues," they loudly repeat, "and here are the people to blame for what you're feeling. If abortion makes you uncomfortable, hate Dr. Tiller." Terrorists call this "target identification." Hating people in public has been the prevailing emotional atmosphere in our country for the past 15 years. Virtually no one in the mainstream supported the cause of the men who murdered Berg. But in 2009, figures as prominent as Bill O'Reilly had no compunction about demonizing Dr. Tiller, repeatedly calling him "Tiller the baby killer."
What similarities do you see between Dr. Tiller's murder and the recent shooting in Tucson, Ariz.?
The biggest similarity, which I first wrote about in Talked to Death, is that these killers had significant psychiatric problems. When those in positions of authority preach the hatred of groups or individuals, this will filter down to everyone else, including the unstable. We like to call it "random violence," but repeatedly demonize and identify a target, and bloodshed will usually erupt. Berg's killer, Scott Roeder, and Jared Loughner of Tucson were all troubled people who lived within an environment of mistrust, if not paranoia. All chose their victims based on the belief that killing was the best way to solve a political or social problem, and then all opened fire.