In defense of the sanctimonious women's studies set || First feminist blog on the internet

The January insurrection shocked a nation. It didn’t shock prochoice advocates.

For outside observers, the attempt to overturn American democracy on 6 January might come as an eye-opening surprise. But for anyone who’s paid attention to the news or cracked open a newspaper, it was the natural conclusion to the decades-long mainstreaming of American extremism and its normalisation of both violent rhetoric and violent action. Its contempt for reality and basic facts is built on a bedrock of lies, conspiracy theories, and threats of terror against its political opponents.

But long before lies, conspiracies and terrorism came together in that very public January attempt to overturn a democratic election, American extremists honed their playbook for successful violence and politics through the anti-choice movement. Long before American extremists weaponised lies and alternative facts to delegitimise everything from vaccines to facemasks to election results, they devoted years to perfecting their strategies and terrorism through their anti-choice attacks on women’s rights.

I’m not talking about the fact that so many anti-choice leaders and convicted terrorists participated in the January insurrection. Everyone’s already heard the jokes about how anti-choice superstar Abby Johnson spoke at the Capitol insurrection, before later turning around and claiming it was organised by antifa once she realised the legal consequences. You likely wouldn’t be surprised if you knew convicted clinic bomber John Brockhoeft also participated in the insurrection, just months after shaking hands with anti-choice leaders in Ohio – the same leaders who claim their movement opposes violence. Let’s face it, picking on these idiots is low-hanging fruit.

Nor am I talking about the role of the anti-choice movement in providing the blueprint for radicalising half of America to oppose not just abortion but masks, medical experts, and democracy itself. Sure, we know that decades of demonising medicine and government alike laid the groundwork for American conservatives to believe the pandemic is a myth and masks are a socialist plot. From there, we saw the anti-choice playbook redeployed in service of radicalising Americans, through lies and conspiracy theories, to believe coastal elites are using vaccines and antifa to secretly declare war on white people, take away their guns, and steal an election.

But as we think back to the armed militias and white supremacists who stormed the Capitol, waving Confederate flags that 400,000 Union soldiers gave their lives to keep out of Washington for 160 years, one may believe the anti-choice movement’s playbook of radicalisation and terrorism gave birth to the racist militias that stormed the Capitol.

That is not correct. Racist militias were the ones that gave birth to the modern anti-choice movement. The movement did not recruit militias to turn its violent rhetoric into violent action. Militias birthed the modern anti-choice movement through their paranoia that Jews and immigrants would soon supplant America’s white Christian identity.

In the 1980s, white extremists like the KKK began developing wanted posters for abortion providers, publicising their personal details and encouraging their assassination. The anti-choice movement quickly adopted and popularised this tactic. As multiple abortion providers died as a result, militias like the White Aryan Resistance organised rallies in support of the killers, claiming such killings “protected Aryan women and children”. When Operation Rescue popularised the use of protests to threaten and intimidate patients and providers alike, it recruited enthusiastic protesters from white nationalist groups like the American Front.

Perhaps today’s anti-choice movement knows that associating with the same violent militants that it claims to denounce is a bad look. If so, the movement hasn’t shown much evidence that it’s ashamed. Cheryl Sullenger was convicted in 1987 of attempting to bomb a clinic on the West Coast. She now serves as Operation Rescue’s senior vice president. Previously she served as senior policy analyst, where she provided information that assisted Scott Roeder in his assassination of Dr George Tiller. Most recently, anti-choice extremists like Derrick Evans have begun openly deploying the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia opposed to racial equality, to provide armed “protection” for anti-choice extremists.

The anti-choice movement has devoted half a century to perfecting its playbook for radicalising violent rhetoric into radical violence. Because most of its victims have been marginalised women and the medical professionals trying to help them, society has been able to ignore the anti-choice movement’s escalation from attacking women to defying democracy itself. Police and even presidents sneered at the concerns of prochoice advocates who warned that far-right radicals were fuelling anti-choice terrorism and anti-government militias alike. In January, we saw how our failure to acknowledge those canaries in the coal mine led to an attempt by armed white supremacists to overthrow our democracy.

On 20 January, Joe Biden became the first President to acknowledge white supremacy in his inaugural address, promising to tackle it with the full force of his federal government. But our fight against American extremism will outlast Joe’s presidency. The forces that literally overran our democracy have had half a century to mainstream themselves from the fringes into the White House itself. For prochoice advocates, their work has become more than fighting for reproductive rights. It is now about protecting our nation.