The shooting of abortion physician George Tiller continued a long, dark tradition in American politics. Radicalism on the fringes of social movements has been a surprisingly enduring phenomenon in American politics. There were violent abolitionists, axe-wielding temperance crusaders, Black Panthers in the civil rights movement, Weathermen in the New Left, and eco-terrorists in the environmental movement.
Such bloodshed has been one of the tragic consequences of political liberty. The American Founders were particularly sensitive to the relationship between freedom and factional violence. James Madison famously designed our Constitution to "break and control the violence of faction." Tiller's murder should remind us that the Madisonian Constitution has not always succeeded.
But such crimes should also not lead us to view political factions as negatively as Madison did. Although radical factions have often existed in social movements, they have almost always been marginal. This fact is constantly obscured by the media's attentive vigil over the most sensational and militant activists. Currently, for example, one of the most prominent radical organizations in the pro-life movement is Operation Rescue West, a group that has devoted itself to harassing the late Dr. Tiller. Nonetheless, Troy Newman, the director of Operation Rescue West (ORW), confessed to me, "We have no base."
Despite the fact that it is hardly an organizational secret that Operation Rescue West has no members, an internet search of ORW yields more than twice as many hits as Birthright International, a pro-life organization that manages more than 400 crisis pregnancy centers with thousands of volunteers. Nor has Birthright attracted exposés in popular magazines ...