Why the FBI Included Pro-Choice Activists on the List of Domestic Terror Threats

With an explosive Supreme Court decision coming, the Trump administration is preparing to take direct aim at the opposition.  

Since Trump was elected president, incidents of violent extremism have been on the rise, fueled predominantly by right-wing domestic terrorists. But as Spencer Ackerman and Emily Shugerman report, the FBI has broadened the terminology they use to categorize their domestic terrorism efforts to include “abortion violent extremism.” In testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray made it clear that the language included violent extremism on both sides.

Wray wasn’t only talking about the pro-life extremism that murders abortion providers in their churches, he hastened to add, but “people on either side of that issue who commit violence on behalf of different views on that topic.”

His questioner, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), was puzzled at Wray’s seeming equivalence: “People on either side of that issue don’t commit violence.”…But Wray persisted: “Well, we’ve actually had a variety of kinds of violence under that, believe it or not.”

Citing data from the National Abortion Federation, Ackerman and Shugerman point out that “between 1993 and today, anti-abortion activists murdered 11 people and attempted to kill another 26.” When it comes to violence by pro-choice activists, the FBI could only point to one case from 2012 in which Theodore Schulman was convicted for posting a threatening message in the comments section of a web site.

You might wonder why the FBI would go out of their way to include “abortion rights extremism” on their list of domestic terror threats, and especially why they would go out of their way to include pro-choice activists, who have no history of violent extremism.

The answer to that question might lie in the fact that the Supreme Court is scheduled to make a ruling on an abortion case in June that many have suggested would mean the end of women’s reproductive freedom across the country. The case is June Medical Services v. Gee, which involves a Louisiana law that requires any doctor performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a state-approved hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

Just three years ago the Supreme Court ruled on an identical law in Texas, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellersted, striking down the law which had “few, if any health benefits for women” while being “a substantial obstacle to women” in exercising a constitutional right.

The only thing that has changed since then is the make-up of the Supreme Court. At the time, Justice Kennedy (who has since retired) voted with the four liberals on the court to strike down the Texas law. Voting to uphold it were Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia. While Gorsuch and Kavanaugh were specifically chosen for a moment like this, their intentions were broadcast when they voted against this case coming to the Supreme Court, which would have allowed the lower court’s decision to uphold the Louisiana law to go into effect.

The reason this case is so significant is that it takes direct aim at the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. That ruling gave states the ability to regulate abortion but declared that such regulations would be unconstitutional if they constitute an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose to obtain an abortion. If that requirement is removed, states will be able to implement restrictions that make the procedure basically unavailable to women.

As you can see, the odds are that this Supreme Court will put a stake through the heart of Roe v. Wade. If that happens, we can count on a powerful national response from pro-choice activists. The FBI just set the stage to accuse those activists of engaging in violent extremism.

I am reminded of the warning Benjamin Wittes issued back in 2016 about putting a would-be tyrant in the Oval Office.

The soft spot, the least tyrant-proof part of the government, is the U.S. Department of Justice and the larger law enforcement and regulatory apparatus of the United States government. The first reason you should fear a Donald Trump presidency is what he would do to the ordinary enforcement functions of the federal government, not the most extraordinary ones.

It should come as no surprise that the attorney general appointed by that would-be tyrant is taking this course after he publicly suggested that progressives are the ones engaged in a holy war against conservatives. With an explosive Supreme Court decision coming in about four months, it is clear that the Trump administration is gearing up to take direct aim at the opposition.

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.