A few months back, libertarians, militia supporters and other government vilifiers got all heated up over a report compiled by a Missouri Highway Patrol employee on militias and the mayhem they might cause.
Last week in Kansas, Scott Roeder was charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller.
Roeder once belonged to the Freemen militia group, had declared himself a "sovereign citizen" and therefore didn't believe he had to pay taxes, had been arrested in the 1990s with explosive devices in his car, and was rabidly focused on abortion. In other words, he fit all the boxes in the Missouri report.
Apologies anyone? After all, heads rolled in the backlash against the report, even though it never said anyone who had these associations, including third-party political candidates, was a certain threat. Rather, it simply made the point that militia members holding such beliefs had indeed caused violence.
What is unknown is if Roeder is simply a mentally ill man who could have turned violent on behalf of a variety of causes. His family has said he was diagnosed with schizophrenia but refused treatment.
Just as we know little about Roeder's true motivations, so too with George Tiller. A fiercely private man, Tiller is largely a blank screen upon which pundits and commentators on both the left and right have projected their views.
Not long after news of the murder hit the Internet, liberal bloggers had assembled a video montage of Bill O'Reilly repeating "Tiller the Killer" on various broadcasts, along with other choice bits of blood-curdling vituperation.
Then there are those who lionize Tiller as a defender of the rights and health of women, a great humanitarian. They offer heart-rending stories of women carrying abnormally formed babies expected to die at birth. Tiller's clinic, one of three in the United States willing to perform late-term abortions, offered a resolution.
But lesser-known anecdotes reveal a less saintly character. He screamed, "Too bad your mother's abortion failed," to the founder of Operation Rescue. In 1993, he was flipping off a demonstrator, believing she was about to hand him anti-abortion literature, just before she shot him in both arms. And he was a recovering drug and alcohol abuser.
More importantly, what do we know about his practice? Did he specialize in late-term abortions out of heroic concern for the lives of mothers? Or did he only wish to defiantly build his reputation?
As Roeder is tried, we will have an opportunity to learn more about both his life and his victim's, and that may help us all reach new insights into the issue.
I am opposed to abortion. I believe it is the taking of a human life, unjustifiable under any circumstances except for saving the life of the mother. But to call it murder is an oversimplification.
The issue is far more complicated than the shrieking tones of cable TV or demonstrators and counterdemonstrators. We've lost our ability to talk in ways that are intelligible to both sides. And without dialogue, a vacuum exists that could lure those so prone to more violence.