It’s becoming increasingly clear that the murder of James Pouillon is not, as anti-choicers hoped, a tit-for-tat murder that will function to excuse their inculcation of terrorists that vandalize, set fires, bomb, and shoot clinic workers in an attempt to force sexually active women to give birth against their will. For those who haven’t been following, James Pouillon and Mike Fuoss of Owosso, Michigan were shot to death late last week. Harlan James Drake was picked up for the murders, and he had the name of a third man he intended to kill on him. Drake appears to have had a vendetta against all three men, though the police aren’t speaking much about what the vendetta was. It’s important to understand that even if it surfaces, it likely won’t make sense. Spree killers tend to have garbled reasons for what they do. One of the best-known examples of a similar killer was Andrew Cunanan, the man who killed 2 friends/acquaintances, a real estate developer that police speculate he was jealous of, a stranger, and then Gianni Versace, who appears to be targeted because of his fame and fortune. Then, as now, the tenuous connection to a sexy political issue caused a lot of undue speculation. I remember how the media tried to make a big deal out of the fact that Cunanan was gay, like his most famous target. But Cunanan wasn’t trying to make some bold political statement, nor was his homosexuality some kind of precursor to murder. (Most mass murderers like this are straight men.) And it seems that Drake’s most coherent political statement is that he didn’t like Pouillon’s tactics. It seems to me that he targeted Pouillon for the same reasons that Cunanan targeted Versace and Lee Miglin, the real estate developer: these men are the sort that would attract a spree killer’s attention mostly because they’re prominent and attract attention, and maybe even jealousy/resentment. I honestly would be surprised in Pouillon had any idea that Drake was obsessed with him.
Obviously, this whole thing is an unmitigated tragedy. Pouillon is an innocent man who had every right to protest where he wanted, as long as he didn’t try to physically interfere with people’s movements. It seems that when he did do this, he went to jail and did his time. That I should even have to say that shooting people in the street is a complete travesty makes me sad. It should be obvious that I don’t think it’s right that fucked-up people run around shooting innocent people on the street. But to avoid the “both sides” narrative, I want to make it clear that I 100% condemn this murder, and I believe 100% that Pouillon was an innocent person who had every right to say the things he did. I want to make it exquisitely clear that I don’t think that Pouillon’s opinions meant anything but that I opposed his opinions. No one should mistake this for behavior like that of the anti-choicers who celebrated Dr. Tiller’s death or claimed he had it coming.
It doesn’t seem like there’s any mainstream media attempts to make this a tit-for-tat thing, so they can say “both sides” are violent, and avoid the responsibility of reporting on the domestic terrorism inculcated in the American right. Obviously, anti-choicers are trying to exploit this tragedy to establish that narrative, because they aren’t hemmed in by truth or conscience. They should not be allowed to set the tone, especially since their end goal is to continue enhancing a media environment where the link between perpetrators of violence and their friends in the anti-choice movement go unexamined. I can’t help but point out that the main reason they don’t want those links being made is so they can continue to encourage violence without being held legally responsible.
There is no equivalence. Anti-choicers who attack providers usually come straight out of the anti-choice movement, and those who do jail time for conspiracy and are released tend to return straight to their friends and to a routine of picketing clinics. They have a support system of anti-choice activists. Scott Roeder is receiving visitors from the anti-choice movement. He knew how to find Dr. Tiller because Operation Rescue stalked him and used a network of phone and computer communications to keep tabs on his every move—they also discussed on forums the best ways to get physical access to him, despite his guards. Prior to this, one of the most famous abortion bombers—who also targeted gay people—was Eric Rudolph. Again, he relied heavily on the unspoken but understood terrorist conspiracy, as the FBI believes that Rudolph evaded capture for so long because he had plenty of right wing friends to hide him. He received a lot of public support, for sure, with songs written praising him, and signs and T-shirts doing the same. There is simply nothing in the pro-choice movement like this. The idea of that is laughable. Even in the days when the “two sides” were reversed, and abortion was illegal, pro-choicers weren’t in the business of threatening anyone’s safety. (Or doing so and then playing cute about it, like anti-choicers do now.) Pro-choicers don’t publish home addresses and wanted posters of anti-choice activists. There are no parallels. There’s no reason to think that this murderer Harlan Drake had any association with the pro-choice movement, period.
Luckily, like I said, the obvious difference here is such that even a media that is eager for a “both sides” story can’t run with it.
There’s nothing but sadness here. I noted at the time of his murder to a friend that I can’t help but be doubly saddened by a story like this, because my experience tells me that people who get as deep into anti-choice activism as Pouillon usually had some breaking point earlier in their life that sent them from being a relatively stable person to an obsessive consumed by hate and the desire to control and punish women. For anti-choice men, it’s usually the loss of a relationship with a woman that sends them off, I’m afraid. I remember once watching a video of “post-abortive” men testifying at some rally about how abortion did them wrong, and it was painful, because every case was the same. He knocked his girlfriend up, she took the chance to reevaluate the relationship, she had an abortion, and she broke it off. Their anger at being rejected attached to abortion, and the very people who were supposed to be helping them heal—religious advisors—instead were exploiting their pain and telling them to blame it on abortion.
In fact, I had just finished reading Columbine by Dave Cullen, and towards the end, he chronicled a similar spiraling out of control that leads to anti-choice activism in the person of Brian Rohrbough. Throughout the book, I kept thinking I’d heard of Rohrbough, and Cullen revealed it at the end. Rohrbough was car audio guru in Colorado, and then his son Danny was shot in the Columbine massacre. The grief of this incident sent Rohrbough spiraling deep into right wing nuttery, and he’s now the president of Colorado Right To Life. When a memorial to the survivors was erected in a park near the high school, all the other family members submitted inscriptions celebrating their loved ones lost to the massacre. Rohrbough devoted his inscription to a rant blaming the massacre on abortion.
That’s an extreme case, but one thing you pick up if you’ve been struggling against the anti-choice movement for awhile is that it’s rife with loss, depression, and an inability to deal with it—and worse, an anti-choice movement happy to exploit the hurting for its political ends. James Pouillon seems to have fit the type, sadly.
Interestingly, some who knew Pouillon say his protests were personally motivated as well. His nephew Steven Pouillon told the Times that James Pouillon’s divorce over ten years ago “triggered” his protesting. “He got heavy into it after that,” said Stephen Pouillon. And Owosso resident Jimmy Carmody said, “I really don’t think he hated abortion as much as he was bitter about the marriage.”
You see this trajectory a lot with “men’s rights activists”, as well. The vast majority you’ll meet had a really bitter divorce, often marred with domestic violence and child custody battles, and above all, they’re angry because they simply lost control of the situation and of their wives. You have a similar dynamic with the anti-choice movement, which sucks up lost men and women who need help, but instead of getting help, they’re given an enemy to blame: Sexual women, feminists, and the entire culture of liberation. They long for an idyllic patriarchy, where women didn’t have choices, because even though that lack of freedom seems depressing to most of us, the promise of less confusion is intoxicating. We see mandatory childbirth and marriage as a trap, an inhumane strike against women’s humanity. They see women as the necessary sacrifice for social stability.
It’s hard for me to remember this often when I’m tangling with these people, who are mean-spirited drama queens, condescending, sexist, and addicted to authority. They make you angry. They enjoy making you angry, because annoying a liberal or a feminist is easy enough to mistake for that control they crave. And mostly, I don’t mind that I just get angry at them. They are, after all, out to ruin my life and that of everyone else I know.
But at times like these, it’s good to take a moment and remember that they’re human beings. Often, they’re human beings awash in pain and suffering they can’t even get a handle on, and so they lash out at the world and specifically at targets that right wing leaders set up for them. They are human beings who deserve to live and struggle against the cruel world as much as the rest of us. And when something like this happens to one of them, it’s an unmitigated tragedy.