Womens Health

MSNBC Looks at "Assassination of Dr. Tiller"

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The pro-life movement is the most peaceful social justice movement in the history of the U.S." Jill Stanek, anti-abortion activist

Tonight, at 9 p.m. Eastern, Rachel Maddow will be hosting The Assassination of Dr. Tiller, a documentary examining the forces behind the murder of one of the country's most well-known abortion providers. With formerly unreleased interviews from Dr. Tiller, as well as new interviews with well-known anti-abortion activists who were around the periphery of the event, the film is expected to provide new light on an otherwise dark day for reproductive health.

Via the Kansas City Star:

The film, 43 minutes long with commercial breaks, begins as a straightforward true-crime account, a specialty of one of the film’s in-house production units, MSNBC Films.

An usher at Wichita’s Reformation Lutheran Church, Gary Hoepner, recounts the morning of May 31, 2009, when he saw Roeder raise the gun to Tiller’s head and pull the trigger. Wichita homicide chief Ken Landwehr, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston and a member of Roeder’s defense team, Mark Rudy, describe Roeder’s prosecution and conviction.

Then the film rewinds to tell the story of the two men and what led them to that fateful day: how Tiller became an abortion provider, locked horns with Operation Rescue, was shot in both arms by Shelley Shannon in 1993 and defied every attempt to shut down his practice.

How Roeder committed to the anti-abortion cause after becoming a born-again Christian, walked away from his wife and child, began to consort with extremists and came to believe that “nothing was being done” to stop Tiller — feelings that exploded after the doctor’s acquittal.


But it's the end of the piece, the statement that a federal grand jury is looking into a possible conspiracy, that leaves many wondering if this may be the uncovering of a plot to use violence to stop abortion providers.

From MSNBC's preview on the documentary:

Operation Rescue president Troy Newman agreed to be interviewed for the msnbc documentary, despite what the organization fears will be a "heavily slanted" presentation.

After the murder, police discovered a piece of evidence — a slip of paper with Operation Rescue's phone number — in Roeder's vehicle.

Newman flatly denies that the group had any ties to Roeder or the murder. He acknowledges the media attention the group received following this news, but clarifies that the phone number was an informational hotline for the organization and has been widely published online. "We're certainly not suspects in this case," he says. 

"We were shocked and horrified about [Dr. Tiller's murder] just like everybody else," Newman says.

For the documentary's co-creator and narrator, Rachel Maddow, the story is more than about a crime against an abortion provider.

"Scott Roeder was linked to a number of different political and protest groups," says the MSNBC host. "One of the things that was hard to report on at the time was the widespread evidence of people celebrating the murder — it was all over the Web on Twitter, on Facebook, on blog comments. Those anecdotal observations didn't necessarily fit into the daily news coverage of the murder — but it's one of the things that stuck with me, that made me want to look into the story in more depth."

"Anti-abortion forces have succeeded in restricting the availability of abortion through lots of means short of outright prohibition — everything from punitive regulations... to physical intimidation and harassment of abortion providers," says Maddow.

"Harassment, intimidation, and violence shouldn't be confused with the noble tradition of American protest — they're crimes, and they should be investigated and prosecuted as such."


 America Blog explores the conspiracy likelihood even further.

As part of the promo for her October 25 special "The Assassination of Dr. Tiller", Rachel Maddow presented a series of Wanted posters on abortion providers who were subsequently murdered in the early Clinton years. At one point she asks, "Do you want to see the Wanted poster the movement put out for John Britton?" The poster "the movement" put out. Prima facie evidence of a conspiracy?

This is a striking segment. After showing the Clinton-era posters and murders, she notes that following the 2009 murder of Dr. George Tiller, the posters started turning up again, in North Carolina.

...Three points:

  • What are the odds there is a conspiracy of abortion-provider killers and their support groups operating in the U.S.? Evidence of this goes back to the early 1990s. The posters themselves are indications of a conspiracy.
  • Does the right-wing's renewed interest in gun violence under Democratic administrations encourage this violence? Note the timing — early Clinton-era; early Obama-era.
  • Does fear of right-wing propaganda attack mitigate conspiracy investigations in cases like these? Look at the Conservative reaction to the DHS report on right-wing terrorism, and the subsequent spineless government response.

Good questions all. And good for Ms. Maddow for producing her special.

For more on the connection that Dr. Tiller's murderer had with the larger anti-abortion community, check out our featured diary by AnnRose.

This post was originally published at RH Reality Check, a site of news, community and commentary for reproductive health and justice