Responsible speech

I have often said that it is important not to leap to conclusions in the immediate aftermath of tragic events.  I have often condemned “instant analysis”, the scourge that we have allowed to spread whereby we need to understand everything right away, with no time for sober consideration or reflection.  And I have no intention of doing that here, even if it may look like that.

We have learned, tentatively, that the man who killed 3 people (1 law enforcement officer and 2 civilians) outside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic uttered “no more baby parts” after his arrest (see story here).   That may or may not be true and may or not be relevant to why he did what he did.  We are also learning more about this man and his background and – surprise, surprise – he was well known as a problematic figure (I have said it before and I will say it again – acts of ideological violence never occur “out of the blue”: there are ALWAYS signs if you know what to look for).

So I will not speculate on whether this heinous act was  indeed an act of terrorism and will not speculate on motivation since we need to know more.  But I will comment on the atmosphere of intolerance and hate that exists in the US when it comes to issues like Planned Parenthood (which provides contraception and family planning advice more than it provides abortions).

Religious and conservative figures (sometimes the two are the same, sometimes they are not) in the US have been campaigning vociferously for decades to outlaw abortions and to have barriers put in place that makes it all but impossible to have an abortion in states that previously facilitated it.  Look, I have no intention of falling into the abortion debate.  I have never seen such a divisive matter where neither side sees any room for compromise.  This is truly a black or white issue.

But I believe that the rhetoric spewed by anti-abortionists is not just hateful but incites violence – and incites acts of terrorism.  Whether or not the Colorado Springs incident ends up as one, there have certainly been enough bombings of abortion clinics and assassination of doctors who provide abortion services to clearly show that terrorism has been executed by “true believers” to stop “non-believers” from doing what the former think God does not like.  I.e. abortions.

And these acts are fuelled by the hate speech of some.  The phrase “no more baby parts” stems from a video made by an anti-abortion group which had infiltrated Planned Parenthood and taken the words of an employee out of context, twisting them to suggest that unborn babies were being harvested for their organs.  The matter was spun nationally and responses ranged from forcing Congress to stop funding the organisation to….

Proponents of free speech will claim that words are just words and that speech is, and must be (I agree) protected.  But is it not obvious that hateful speech can lead to violence?  Don’t people get that?  Yes, I know that constitutionally-enshrined rights are the backbone of civilised society, but hate is hate.  Those who utter these words must know that by doing so they are partly responsible for those who act on them.

This is not a freedom of speech issue.  This is need to act responsibly issue.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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