Political violence is always wrong


by Jeff Fecke | September 11, 2009 • We don’t know yet what motivated Harlan James “Hale” Drake to kill two people, including an anti-abortion activist, Friday morning. There have been conflicting reports — the police reportedly said Drake was “offended” by anti-abortion activist Jim Pouillon, but the nature of that offense is unclear. RH Reality Check, however, quotes a source as saying “There was no political agenda” to the killings, and that Drake was “a disturbed man.” Police have said that Pouillon, Drake, and Mike Fuoss, the other victim, all knew each other, but how well or in what context is not clear, other than that Drake’s mother apparently once worked for Fuoss.

So we don’t know exactly what drove Drake to kill, and until we do, I don’t want to speculate as to his motive. He could be a guy driven to kill out of personal animus; he could be a hardcore lefty looking to make a name for himself. And until we know more, leaping to either conclusion is wrong.

Jeff Fecke is a freelance writer who lives in Eagan, Minnesota.In addition to his own blog, Blog of the Moderate Left, he also contributes to Alas, a Blog, Minnesota Campaign Report, and AlterNet. Fecke has appeared as a guest on the “Today” show, the Alan Colmes radio show, and the Mark Heaney Show. Fecke is divorced, and the father of one really terrific daughter. His debut novel, The Valkyrie’s Tale, is now available.

What we can do, and must do, however, is condemn unreservedly the killing of Fuoss, and especially, of Jim Pouillon.

I doubt Pouillon and I would have agreed on much of anything. He was the kind of guy who would hold the dead fetus posters outside of a high school — the kind of guy so committed to the anti-choice movement that his actions become almost counterproductive. I dislike both the medium and the messsage he used in life.

But that’s okay; the nice thing about the First Amendment is that Pouillon didn’t need my or anyone else’s approval to share his message. He exercised his right to freedom of expression for decades, and more than once went to court to defend his right to free speech.

Flatly, no matter what one thinks of Pouillon’s message, he should have been free to state that message without dying for it. And I condemn in the strongest possible terms his killing. Pouillon may have been wrong, but he had the right to be wrong, and the right to trumpet his wrongness to the world, without fear of attack or physical reprisal. Political violence, whether it comes from the left or right, is always, always, always wrong. And I will countenance nobody arguing otherwise.

I disagreed with Pouillon’s message, as do many — and indeed, many anti-choicers I know would find his media embarassing. But the way to counter people like Pouillon is to speak out against them, to counter free speech with free speech, to make the case for why you are right and he is wrong. If you believe you are right — as I do on the abortion issue — then you have nothing to fear from letting your opponents speak.

Pouillon was wrong on this issue. But being wrong on an issue should never be a mortal offense.

We will see, in coming days, what motivated Drake. And perhaps we will find that politics played no role in this; I hope so. But whether it did or didn’t in this particular case is immaterial to the larger point. A free society demands that people be free to express their opinions without fear. Whether those opinions are benign or challenging, people must be able to stand up and say “This, I believe,” without fear that they will be killed for it. When we get away from that principle, as we have all too often in our country, everyone of every political stripe suffers for it. I do not have to agree with Jim Pouillon to know that his death will discourage not just anti-abortion activists from speaking their minds, but pro-choice activists as well. In the end, political violence is an attack not on a position, but on the very idea that we can solve our differences through peaceful, legal means, the very idea that underpins democracy itself. And no matter the target, it must always be condemned flatly.