I have a lot of issues with the American obsession around political binaries. But it’s hard to deny that it’s an overwhelming force that maintains a maddening influence on our country. Both-side-isms are built on the assumption that the “political center” is the exact middle between two equal but opposite poles. Given the choice between killing 100 people, or killing none, this kind of radical centrist confidently strides forward with their “logical” assertion that killing 50 people is the only possible solution that would allow us to maintain what they see as the equilibrium of the status quo.
The latest example of this comes from an FBI briefing in front of the House Judiciary Committee in early February. The bureau has been working to fine-tune its language in order to better address the (very real!) threat of domestic terrorism, which has often gone overlooked in the past. As part of these linguistic changes, the FBI has broken down domestic terrorism into four broad categories, including “abortion violent extremism,” which FBI Director Christopher Wray described as “people on either side of that issue who commit violence on behalf of different views on that topic.”
Rep. Karen Bass of California rightly pointed out to Wray that there is no evidence of violence on “both sides” of the abortion issue. But Wray insisted that the threats must be balanced on both sides. Later, when pressed by the Daily Beast, the FBI could only cite a single instance of “pro-choice extremism,” which involved a man who threatened anti-abortion activists online.
Don’t get me wrong; threats are bad. But they’re not the same as, say, shooting up a Planned Parenthood — the kind of recurring action that has resulted in at least 11 American deaths and some two dozen or so injuries since 1993. Anti-abortion violence has demonstrably and objectively been on the rise in recent years; meanwhile, “pro-choice violence” is still coasting by on zero kills.
The FBI’s updated language around domestic terrorism may very well be a good faith effort to make the country safer overall. But the FBI also has a terrible reputation wherein such loosely-defined categories are weaponized and used to unfairly persecute and punish anyone who steps outside of the status quo. It’s not a stretch to think that someone could come along and decide that all abortions are, in fact, acts of “pro-choice extremism,” then use that definition to shut down all abortion access under the auspices of “anti-terrorism.” After all, that would be the perfect centrist solution to “both sides.”
The FBI Makes a Bizarre Claim About Pro-Choice Terrorism [Spencer Ackerman / The Daily Beast]
Image: Robin Marty / Flickr (CC 2.0)
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