Francis Grady and Defining Terrorism

“They’re killing babies there.”

Image copyright Corey Wilson. The Green Bay Press-Gazette

Apparently, it wasn’t the first time that Francis Grady, the man pleading guilty to charges of arson against a Wisconsin Planned Parenthood, had interrupted the Green Bay federal judge. “Do you know how many babies are being killed at the clinic?” he demanded. He had interrupted once before, asking the presiding federal judge if he knew about “the 1,000 babies they killed from that place,” and again, when he told his arresting officers that he had ” lit up the clinic,” after breaking a window and using gasoline to start a fire inside the clinic. While no one was inside the clinic at the time, the fire did damage to an exam room, but nothing that couldn’t be repaired. “Hey, I’m here to do good, not wrong” he said as he left court, with the weight of two counts on his back: “one count of arson of a building used in interstate commerce and one count of intentionally damaging a facility that provides reproductive health services.” If convicted of both, Gary may serve up to 21 years in a federal prison, as well as pay a $350,000 fine.

So, forgive me if I’m having a hard time understanding why this doesn’t count as domestic terrorism.

Terrorism is a big word, often with an even bigger, more frightening connotation, one that often emotionally charged with visions of large-scale disasters and politically laced language that’s meant to keep justifying things like The Patriot Act or multiple wars and occupations. But terrorism has no universal “meaning,” no agreed-upon, legally binding, criminal-law definition, leaving anything that perhaps does not fall within a prescribed, cemented definition of “terror” into an act that becomes a lesser sum of its parts: a bombing, a fire, an assault – and so on.

But terrorism, for the most part, stops around here, especially in tandem with reproductive rights. However, given the history of anti-choice movements, its hard to not look at the effort as a decades-long attempt at terrorizing anyone who walks through a clinic door to make a personal health decision that is under said legal protection. Perhaps if it were just the stray protesters, the ones that seem to dedicate every Saturday they have to standing outside of clinics with signs emblazoned with Jesus and grotesque fetuses, proclaiming that this is what an abortion looks like, screaming at anyone who dares to walk to the clinic, maybe then many could at least take comfort in the fact that legally, even under the worst circumstances of those who abuse that precious First Amendment right, that we who are making these decisions are at least protected in some fashion, even while opponents, separated by bulletproof glass, scream at how we are damned to hell. Even that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

But to even imagine that scenario, a scenario in which one is just privileged enough (and I mean that with all the thinly veiled sarcasm I can) to be harassed only by threats of violence, is to ignore the fact that it is part of years upon years of anti-choice efforts carefully crafted by legislators, funded by tax dollars, and all but cheered on with a frothing-at-the-mouth type of political obsessiveness to make reproductive health and care completely inaccessible. By creating these turbulent environments that are backed both by legislatures and manipulative rhetoric that consistently references “baby killers” or “baby terrorist,” as the late Dr. George Tiller was often named, it becomes not only a mission but a good mission to take out a family planning center in an effort to “save” babies. Never mind the persons that actually might be in there.

But the idea still comes back to the circular logic from whence it started. No one is aching to get an abortion, no one is dying to take Plan B, no one makes these trips just for the hell of it. Yet, somehow all who enter any clinic’s doors are painted as the ones who are inflicting violence – a type that is justified by murders and assassinations (eight successful and 17 attempted), death threats (383), assaults (153), bombings and arsons (41 and 173), attempted bomb threats (91) and acts of both trespassing and vandalism (1630 and 1264), all in the name of “saving lives.” Perhaps this discussion would feel a little less black and white if those so intent on making an already stressful and often emotionally fraught experience an even worse one found themselves in a similar situation, where the normalcy of life has been upended, regardless of whether the pregnancy was wanted – but I’m leaning toward not. One has to assume that someone like Grady, a middle-aged, white, able-bodied male, will probably never know what it is like to have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy, or a failed pregnancy, or hell, even pick up a prescription for birth control, get a pap smear, or have a check up.He had already planned violence; he has lost any sort of empathetic reasoning or understanding of what it might be like to be in a situation unlike his own. One could also assume that these incidents aren’t part of the larger scale social fabric and are isolated, random acts of violence committed by extremists. One could assume a lot.

But it doesn’t matter, because many know otherwise. The staff at the Green Bay Planned Parenthood know it, as do their patients. Almost anyone who has ever walked through the doors of a clinic knows it. They know in the back of their minds that there are people out there who think they deserve to be terrorized, that they are killers instead of patients seeking health care. I also know that when Harry Seldon said, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent,” that it just rings too way close to home.

Terrorism isn’t always the large, scary unknown, wrapped in the context of “the other.” Terrorism is the smaller acts that add up, day after day; the acts that insist a woman have a forced trans vaginal sonogram or receive christian counseling before seeking an abortion. It’s walking past protesters who scream that you will burn in hell, you are a murderer, a horrible person, and how if they could, they would do awful things to you. Terrorism is setting a clinic on fire in the name of babies, hoping that finally, one day, too many will be scared to go back, because what if they don’t end up coming out alive?

Maybe I am overstepping here, beating up a case that needs not be. But as each day rolls by, with more news that confirms the fact that reproductive health care and access are considered offenses that need to be struck down by both law and violence, I cannot help but begin to suspect that it is what it has revealed itself to be.

14 replies on “Francis Grady and Defining Terrorism”

Forgive me as I risk pedantry here.

You’re right, there is no actual approved definition for terrorism.  Every formal agency you run across adds caveats and details, but what is the central theme amongst all definitions is this:  Terrorism is the act of committing violence in order to influence public opinion and/or belief.  The strong reaction the U.S. government uses against terrorism, and advocates other countries to do, makes me uncomfortable with the thought of slavishly applying the word ‘terrorism’ to any politically-motivated act of violence. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but I worry opening the definition of terrorism to include all politically-motivated violence opens an ugly door for increased state intervention and monitoring.  As far as this guy is concerned, he is trying to sway public opinion through acts of violence, but is he succeeding?  I doubt the efficacy of violent pro-lifers.

I would certainly not define legislation inhibiting women’s choices as terrorism.  I think the definition of tyranny is far more fitting. Fortunately, however, we hold the hope of voting the bastards out.

In fact, I am going to go look for hope in the bottom of this chardonnay bottle here….


I think there’s another inclusion in the idea of terrorism: an act of committing violence in order to influence through fear.

And yes, it is an extremely charged word. It is often lobbed against people the US government deems an “enemy.” It, and its trappings, when applied to an action, are meant to invoke revulsion and abjection in us. We are supposed to side against it without thought, to accept the “against terrorism” stance.

But the thing is, by talking about these incidents as terrorism, I do not think we’re opening up the door to include all politically-motivated violence. I do think that it is an attempt to examine these actions as tied to a greater movement that does try to create an environment of fear for those who perform and seek abortions, to the point where some doctors who wish to perform abortions (especially late-term ones) feel the need to conceal their identity. (And there are people who constantly are trying to “expose” them! See: Dr. X)

When there is a continuous movement that makes these doctors feel unsafe, that leads clinics that perform abortions to have to constantly worry about safety…what is going on here?

I would agree with you if this man’s actions were in a vacuum, but unfortunately, it is not. It is part of a greater movement that constantly threatens the safety of those who wish to perform this legal procedure and shames the women who seek it.

I don’t necessarily think that the stronger and stronger push for restricting/delegalizing abortion is “terrorism”… but I do notice a silence from these voices when it comes to decrying violence against abortion providers. And I do think that many of the same justifications play a role in both.

Thank you for the correction and clarification! Of course, fear is the largest component of the definition which I somehow managed to leave out… durrr.

Is this man operating within the larger machinery of the pro-life movement?  I don’t know.  I think this is where the “lone wolf” idea comes into play.  McVeigh and Breivik certainly fit the criterion for terrorist.  My major concern is lumping protesters in with terrorists.  This guy, yes he we can say he committed violence in the name of fear to sway opinion.  He also tossed gasoline through the window of an empty building and lit it afire.  McVeigh, Breivik, al Shabaab, al Qaeda..these individuals and groups are not afraid to take life through violence and fear…I think this is the line for me when it comes to terrorism.  I think this person is a sad, sorry little man.

So what is the line?  Threats and harassment, or actual premeditated murder (and no, I’m not missing the irony of how an extreme pro-lifer would read this).  I do believe we must use care and scrutiny when applying the word terrorism, but at the same time there can be no excuse for violence, I do want to be very clear on that.

Absolutely! Especially because “terrorism” is such a pejorative word, and its usage often has political motivations, we have to be very careful exactly how we use it.

Maybe a better way to phrase it would be looking at this part of the pro-life movement and point out its usage of fear, threats of violence, and occasionally violence in order to achieve its goals. Because it is possible that no one “told” this person to do this. I do think, though, that since such behavior is being encouraged by these tactics, the language and tactics encourages someone to do this, and it very much fits into the overarching approaches that could be addressed as terrorist.

Honestly, I don’t like calling anything terrorist because of how loaded the term is. But, since certain things get labeled as terrorist, I think applying it to things like this could help point out similarities and therefore challenge it.

I think you’re on to something with challenging the similarities.  Yes, I do agree with this, the element is there. I don’t think the path to women’s rights is best used  in broad-brushing the pro-life movement as terrorism, as the article suggests in the last few paragraphs, is the right way. This is a case where the best route lies through the legislative process and rhetoric needs to use that, to rely upon the Constitutionality of freedom of privacy as established through Roe v. Wade. I think we run the risk of looking as extreme as the looney tunes on the fringe when we connect the actions of one dirtbag with the motivations of the entire group.

I think you absolutely have a legit point there.

It does suck though, that sometimes I feel like they’re more successful in labeling abortion providers as “terrorists” than the other way around. And I do question the motivations of the larger group of pro-life organizations when they stay so silent about bombings like this… Not to say that all of them condone it, but I would like to see them come out and condemn this.

It is terrorism.  The people who do such things in the name of their idea of the Christian God and to protect hypothetical lives are no better than the Muslim suicide bombers who do what they do in the name of Allah and for the jihad.  Unfortunately, some people consider women to be little more than vessels for hypothetical babies, and until the government takes a strong stand against this idea and starts devoting resources to combat this problem of domestic terrorism, it will continue.

I’m sure the US media, government, Republican and Democratic parties etc etc had had no problem calling the actions of the IRA, the UVF, the CIRA, the LVF ,etc etc in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, and England, “terrorism”. They may not have even had to qualify it with the “domestic”. Why is this different, I wonder…

/rhetorical question.

Terrorism.  Terrorism terrorism terrorism.

Terrorists act to try to change That Which They See As Wrong with violent acts in order to terrify people into not doing that anymore.

It’s only not seen as terrorism because so many people in the government agree with them.

It’s very easy to understand why the word terrorism won’t be used for acts like these. Terrorism needs to be there to use for the Eternal Fight Against the External (Foreign) Bad Guy, not just some people with opinions!

So I propose bullying. These people are bullies that have never been told by parents and society that you don’t use hate and violence and vile actions to make yourself bigger, to make your own ideas better and most importantly: give you the feeling that you’re superior. While bullying kids might have that little voice of their conscious that they haven’t learned yet to suppress, these people are long past that, because they are Right. And by the Lord, being Right tastes so good that I will forget that that same Lord loves everyone and that I live in a country where different opinions and life styles are allowed.

And now I’m angry before going to bed, not good.

Honestly, are white men ever terrorists? Timothy McVeigh comes to mind as the exception to this rule, but he was attacking the government, not a group of people when he bombed the Federal Building. But when white men go after women’s clinics, Jewish community centers, black churches, or the headquarters of some other “outsider” group they are committing a hate crime at worst apparently. It’s a sad state of affairs, but there it is.

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