The C Street Family, Terrorism, And Abortion On TV

Jeff Sharlet comes back on to talk about his further research into a secretive right wing group called The Family. Also, anti-choice terrorism predicts larger right wing terrorism. And why can’t good girl TV characters get abortions?

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Extremism for dummies

“The Assassination of Dr. Tiller”

Mentally ill man arrested for threatening Patty Murray 

Clinton’s speech on terrorism

Carlsbad school shooting

Progressive Hunter


On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be talking to Jeff Sharlet about his second book exposing the elite fundamentalist group the Family.  Also, a report on growing right wing terrorism and another on the clichés about abortion on TV. 

Some of my favorite people in the whole political writing world were on Grit TV to talk about the escalation of right wing extremism and nuttiness.  Richard Kim, Rebecca Traister, and Rick Perlstein were awesome.

  • grit *

Check out the whole thing. 


So this is some exciting news from Rachel Maddow.

  • terrorism 1 *

Rest assured that I will be DVR-ing this and doing a full review of it after it airs on this podcast.  The assassination happened a year and a half ago, and the murderer, Scott Roeder, was given a life sentence by the Kansas justice system a few months ago.  But it seems that this isn’t over, which is actually good news.  In the aftermath of the assassination, many pro-choice activists pointed to Roeder’s extensive associations with anti-choice extremists and suggested that the government should be doing more to investigate if there was a conspiracy.  And now it looks as if those demands could possibly be met.

  • terrorism 2 *

This kind of thing has implications beyond just the safety of people who work to help women get safe, affordable access to abortion.  The truth of the matter is that anti-choice violence is just the torch lighting the way for other forms of right wing domestic terrorism.  Anti-choice terrorism normalizes the notion of using violence to get their way, and it even gives it a pseudo-religious justification.  So, if the government really wants to get control over all forms of domestic terrorism, they need to take anti-choice terrorism seriously as terrorism, and not look at it strictly in this lone actor light. 

And lately, we’ve been seeing  a lot of examples of exactly what I’m talking about.  It starts with anti-choice fanaticism, and that raises the bar for right wing fanaticism of all sorts.  Which, in turn, means the amount of violence and the threats of violence is rising precipitously. The folks at Crooks and Liars, especially David Neiwert, have been collecting many examples. 

  • terrorism 3 *

The man’s ex-girlfriend said that he suffers from psychosis and that he’d gone off his meds.  This is a perfect illustration of what former President Bill Clinton was saying when he addressed the Center for American Progress and talked about right wing hate speech, saying hateful words, quote, “go across space and they fall on the serious and the delirious, alike; they fall on the connected and the unhinged, alike.” End quote. 

The anti-choice movement tends to be the cutting edge of right wing extremism, and this is definitely true when it comes to terrorism.  Dr. Tiller’s murder was an example of an unconnected man hearing over the top rhetoric and taking violent action.  Now these kinds of acts of violence from all sorts of right wing extremists are becoming commonplance. 

* terrorism 4 *

The shooter also had a propane tank and a gas can.  He was apparently ranting while he tried to kill the children, a bunch of stuff about Barack Obama.  In a similar situation, on July 18th, a man named Byron Williams opened fire on some police officers on the California freeway.  Media Matters did an extensive report and found that the man was deeply inspired by the rantings of Glenn Beck. 

  • terrorism 5 *

Abortion providers have been demonized by the right wing press and the conservative movement for decades now, and the result has been terrorism, fear, and violence.  Now that kind of demonization is falling on various progressive organizations, government workers, some politicians, and the entire city of San Francisco, and you’re beginning to see the violence spread.


Insert interview


The almost-abortion.  It’s a way for a TV show or movie to pretend like they’re grappling with questions of choice without actually having the character go through with it.  To watch TV or movies, you’d think that abortion providers have an epic time trying to keep their doors open, because while everyone considers abortion when they have an unwanted pregnancy, no one actually does it.  That, or abortion providers make all their money by putting a turnstile at the exit, and charging everyone who comes in, changes her mind, and flees the premises, sorry that she ever thought there was such a thing as a bad time to have a baby. 

For a time, it seemed the show Mad Men was going to avoid that cliché.  The hard-nosed, practical character Joan Harris gets pregnant after a one-night stand with a former flame, and she’s unsure she can play it off as her husband’s baby, since he’s been shipped to Vietnam a little too long for it to be his.  So she and her lover get a referral, and she goes to a clinic that’s quietly providing safe but illegal abortions.  Then the cliché is flirted with in the clinic lobby, as she watches a young teenager go into the back room while the mother waits in the lobby.  The mother cries, and then this:

  • abortion 1 *

Obviously, Joan is lying—she is the one getting the abortion and has no daughter.  The scene, for me, drove home how much Joan’s life sucks.  She’s 34 and wants a baby, but she can’t have this one. If it wasn’t for the cliché of the woman changing her mind in the clinic, I wouldn’t have even guessed she didn’t go through with it.  But during the season finale, we get the big reveal: Joan on the phone talking about the pregnancy with her happy husband. They totally went for the cliché, and on a show that’s known for not doing that.

It goes to show how powerful the taboo against showing a character affirmatively choosing abortion on screen is, that even Mad Men couldn’t go there.  But they are far from the only parties guilty of this bit of cowardice.  In fact, lots of TV shows and movies that have a reputation for being edgy have balked from showing a character choose abortion.  “Sex and the City” was willing to show casual sex, urine play, cocaine use by supermodels, and men who watch porn while having sex, but when it came to the character Miranda going to have an abortion, this happened.

  • abortion 2 *

And of course, she doesn’t do it.  Because she’s so old, don’t you know?  But then you go to the other end of the age spectrum, and good girls still can’t do it.  Or that’s what I get from the movie Juno—teenage girls should have babies because they don’t like the waiting rooms of abortion clinics.

  • abortion 3 *

So you can make jokes about scratching someone’s “vag”, but you can’t show someone actually choose an abortion on screen.  Another TV show, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”, had a similar plot.  A headstrong girl gets pregnant, makes an appointment without thinking about it, and then there’s a dramatic in-clinic scene. 

  • abortion 4 *

Despite the fact that these are all very good points, you can guess what happens. 

  • abortion 5 *

What’s alarming about all these examples is that they’re all buried in ostensibly pro-choice shows or movies.  “Sex and the City” and “Mad Men” have characters that have had abortions and it’s presented as a right choice, but one that is safely in the past.  You don’t see an affirmative choice to have one on screen.  “Juno” went out of its way to joke about abortion in a destigmatizing way, as if to broadcast that it’s not anti-choice propaganda.  “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” was similarly pro-choice in its dialogue around this choice. 

Taken in isolation, any of these would be fine.  Pro-choicers are glad that some women consider abortion and then decide against it, and counselors are put up in clinics to make sure women aren’t getting abortions they don’t really want.  But taken together, it paints an image of abortion as something that no one really does, at least not good girl characters you know and love.  And it ends up further stigmatizing the procedure, even if the writers don’t have that intention.  It was a particular shame to see “Mad Men” give in to the abortion taboo, because they had a story that was already compelling around Joan and her constant succumbing to mistakes that she has to then clean up.  But now, it just seems to be another example of the same old cliché.


And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, embittered and dumped edition.  Amanda Hess grabbed a video off CSPAN2 of a young conservatives panel that featured Todd Seavey and Helen Rittelmeyer as panelists.  They used to date, and apparently, Todd thought the middle of a panel was a good time to share his feelings about that.

  • woah *

What’s interesting is that he was making a larger point that she’s basically a right winger because she’s sadistic.  And you know, I believe him.