Sunday, December 30, 2007

The origin of an anti-choice scare story

The wonkier parts of the blogosphere are all alight with the story of one Ed Snell, a veteran harasser of pregnant women at abortion clinics, who was allegedly thrown off a car from which perch he was "counselling" women, and seriously injured. "He got what he deserved!" a clinic receptionist was alleged to have screamed.

There's no trace of this incident in Google News, other than a second-hand report from a Catholic house organ and another from the far-right, proving once again, of course, the existence of a widespread anti-anti-abortion conspiracy. A web search turns up several such second- and third-hand reports, all of which can be traced back to one source: the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.


The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) was born of a group of Catholic Americans concerned about the multiple crises shaking every aspect of American life. Founded in 1973, the American TFP was formed to resist, in the realm of ideas, the liberal, socialist and communist trends of the times and proudly affirm the positive values of tradition, family and property.

This is the American chapter of an organization concocted by the Brazilian extremist Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in 1960. Given that we have been discussing fascism in a previous thread, it seems opportune to take a closer look at this organization. Indeed, one can learn more than one might want to know about this sordid outfit by reading Penny Lernoux. Readers will forgive, I hope, this lengthy quotation, exposing the vicious activities of TFP in Latin America:

Though dangerous, the Fatherland and Liberty fanatics were less influential than their counterparts in the Chilean branch of a right-wing Catholic movement known as Tradition, Family, and Property (TFP), principally because TFP's militants had an intellectual base that appealed to a large number of officers in the armed forces. Founded in the early 1960s by the Brazilian philosopher Plinio Correa de Oliveira, TFP has followers in most Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and l Brazil. While akin in some respects to twentieth-century fascism, particularly to Mussolini's corporate state, TFP is really a throwback to eighteenth-century Europe, as yet untouched by the French Revolution, when the Catholic Church defended aristocratic privilege as a divine right. Indeed, TFP's insignia is a medieval lion. Most of its members are from the wealthy, propertied classes and yearn for an earlier time when the Latin-American Church upheld the right of a few patrones to rule a mass of peons.

TFP's first commandment is the utter sanctity of private property, and in countries with progressive bishops, such as Chile and Brazil, this has forced it into repeated clashes with the hierarchy on the issue of agrarian reform. The movement's members tend to be narrow-minded nationalists with a xenophobic reaction to any suggestion by foreigners that there might be something wrong with their country, particularly if the government is running the country for the benefit of the wealthy, as in Pinochet's Chile. They are also blindly anti-communist, seeing subversion in anything remotely resembling reform, and are convinced that reds lurk everywhere in Latin America's new, socially conscious Church. Thus TFP divides the Catholic Church into "our" Church, which is a class Church, rooted in another century, and "their" Church, which is a classless Church and therefore subversive.

While the organization exists primarily to maintain the privileges of the rich, that goal has been disguised by jargon about "degenerate political systems," which TFP claims have caused the Western countries to succumb to Marxist penetration. Society is to be purified, along the lines of Mussolini's corporate state, by replacing traditional political parties with special-interest groups, to which people are assigned according to job and social class. This is supposed to produce a society in which everyone knows his place and is happy to keep it. What TFP doesn't say is that its model of government effectively nullifies any social or economic gains made by Latin America's middle and lower classes.

TFP's activities in Chile, Brazil, and elsewhere are an important part of the CIA story in Latin America, because its members were the intellectual and financial backers of military coups supported by the agency. After the military took over, TFP members and fellow travelers were active in these regimes' persecution of the Catholic Church, as in the case of police agent Adolfo Centeno and the smear campaign against priests and bishops in Uruguay. In some countries-Brazil, for example, where TFP established a series of training camps near Rio de Janeiro- members were instructed by the Army and the police, who, in turn, received military training and political orientation from the CIA, the Pentagon, and AID. But there were still closer ties: in Chile and Brazil the evidence points to both financial and political links between TFP and the CIA in plotting the overthrow of the Allende and Goulart governments.

When it supported right-wing Catholic groups, the CIA had principally in mind the political objective of removing left-wing governments by military intervention, but one result of the collaboration was to strengthen such organizations as TFP, which emerged as religious vigilante squads for the military regimes. Thus the CIA could be accused-and was accused by a number of prominent Catholic leaders, including Brazil's Archbishop Helder Camara-of inciting one sector of the Church to attack another. Moreover, in some countries, Bolivia being one, this collaboration extended to persecution of U.S. citizens when the CIA provided military governments and right-wing Catholic organizations with confidential dossiers on American priests and nuns.

A good example of TFP's connections with both the CIA and the military is the branch in Chile, which supplied the Chilean armed forces with a social philosophy-the generals had none - and a religious basis for the regime's political witch-hunts.

In the last months of the Allende government, TFP, the gremios, Fatherland and Liberty, and other right-wing opposition groups merged in a common front. The National Agriculture Society, for example, was controlled by Fatherland and Liberty and received CIA funds through an organization called the Congress for Cultural Liberty. The society, in turn, worked with the Association of Manufacturers, whose president, Orlando Saenz, was one of the directors of the TFP-backed gremios as well as a secret leader of Fatherland and Liberty. A month before the coup Saenz publicly thanked the president of the Agriculture Society for "the services lent earlier by you to our cause." Both groups had close ties with El Mercurio, Santiago's largest newspaper, which was financed by the CIA and used as an outlet for anti-Allende propaganda, according to U. S. Senate investigations. They also shared important Brazilian connections. Fatherland and Liberty obtained arms from Brazil through a Chilean coffee-importing firm which brought in, via the port of Valparaiso, crates of guns disguised as raw material for the manufacture of instant coffee. Saenz was in close touch with the financial and ideological backers of Brazil's TFP, which had been in at the kill of Goulart's regime. (Several of the tactics used in Chile were tested by TFP in Brazil. With CIA help, TFP sponsored in Sao Paulo a march of several thousand middle- and upper-class women that was psychologically crucial to the coup ten days later. Similarly, women's groups sponsored by TFP and Fatherland and Liberty held their largest demonstration five days before Allende's overthrow.

I have blogged before about the dalliance that elements of the conservative movement are presently having with neo-Nazis and their assorted kindred. This marks the first time that I am aware of, however, that a fascist organization has actually planted a news story, retailed, as it turns out, by its very own assistant web editor, and had it picked up uncritically by various extreme elements in the conservative blogosphere to attack the pro-choice movement. Useful idiots--or willing collaborators?

Further discussion on the invisible wall that supposedly separates fascism from conservatism is welcome, as always.

UPDATE: (January1)

Something did happen in front of the clinic, it seems. At last one of the "MSM" has broken their collective vow of silence and reported. Left unexplained is how the young man managed to "scale" an eight-foot fence, land on the car roof and push the right-to-lifer to the ground. (Why didn't he just use the door?) As the facts come out, perhaps at the young man's trial if there is one, I suspect we'll be hearing another side or two of this story.

None of this contradicts my earlier point: that a lurid tale of alleged pro-choice violence from a suspect source was leaped upon in an utterly uncritical fashion by people who are looking for anything, anything at all, to distract our attention from the killings, arsons, bombings and assorted vandalism perpetrated by the, uh, "pro-life" movement. Moral equivalence? I don't think so.


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