Roe v Wade

What happened to the Roe v Wade ‘night of rage’?

Conservative claims of violence among pro-choice protesters could not have been further from the scenes outside the Supreme Court, writes Rachel Sharp

<p>Zoe (right) with her baby daughter Matilda outside the Supreme Court on Sunday </p>

Zoe (right) with her baby daughter Matilda outside the Supreme Court on Sunday

Matilda is one of the youngest so-called “violent radicals” and “political terrorists” taking a stand outside the US Supreme Court.

At just a few months old, she stares up wide-eyed from her stroller at the people holding brightly coloured banners and signs in the June sunshine.

While her mother Zoe chats to The Independent, the little girl gently dozes off and starts to snooze.

“It was important for us to be here to be a visual representation that this affects mothers,” says Zoe, holding a sign that reads “Here for her” protectively over her daughter.

“This affects children. This affects normal people. Whatever cooked-up image the pro-life people have in their minds, most people who have abortions already have children.

“So it’s really important to be a visual representation of the average person who would need this medical procedure.”

Matilda and Zoe are far from the only mother and daughter coming to the protest as a family.

In the three days that The Independent has been present outside the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the overturning ofRoe v Wade, many young children were seen joining their parents in a show of support for a woman’s right to an abortion.

One young brother and sister proudly held up a sign reading “I dissent” with all the letters painted in different bright colours.

A 14-year-old girl from Ohio joined her mother in peaceful demonstration outside the court.

And for some it was a multi-generational family affair, with one middle-aged woman pushing her elderly mother in her wheelchair through the crowd.

Pro-choice demonstrators protested outside the Supreme Court after Roe v Wade was overturned

It’s all a far cry from the violence and anarchy that the right-wing claimed it would be.

Just hours after the ruling was released on Friday, Texas Senator Ted Cruz had taken to Fox News to warn of a “real risk of violence”

He claimed that Democrats in particular were “encouraging violence,” singling out Rep Maxine Waters who said “the hell with the Supreme Court – we will defy them”.

Senator Cruz called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to be “on watch, to stop any violence today, not to allow radicals who want to employ mob violence, to threaten the Supreme Court, to threaten churches, to threaten pro-life pregnancy centers, to enforce the rule of law”.

It was hardly the first time Mr Cruz had pushed the notion that there would be violence once the ruling came down.

In an interview with Newsmax earlier in the week, the GOP lawmaker – who famously abandoned his state and flew to Cancun for a holiday during a deadly winter storm – said: “We’re gonna see the left lose their minds. We’re gonna see, sadly, organized riots. I fear we’re going to see organized violence. We’re deliberately going to see violence used as a tool of political terrorism by the left.”

And Mr Cruz wasn’t the only one.

On Sunday – after roughly 48 hours of largely peaceful protests across the country – Senator Lindsey Graham branded demonstrators “constitutional anarchists”.

“You know, when Roe came out we didn’t burn down the Capitol as conservatives,” he told Fox.

“We didn’t go to liberal justices’ homes and try to intimidate them.”

Flipping the page on the Capitol riot

The irony was not lost on the protesters outside the Supreme Court, coming at a time when the public hearings into the events of January 6 are taking place inside the Capitol building just across the street.

Rick, a 20-year-old from DC, said he thinks conservatives have pushed the narrative that pro-choice protesters are violent to “flip the page” on the public perception of the Capitol riot.

If the liberals in favour of a woman’s choice to abortion show the same behaviour as the rioters who stormed the Capitol, then it detracts from the violence seen on that historic day, he explained.

“Conservatives were very violent and they want to flip the page,” he said. “We’re not going to be violent but they want to flip the page that we are.”

Madeline, 14, and her mother Kristen, 46, outside the Supreme Court

There’s a political motive to pushing the narrative that pro-choice protesters are violent, said Kristen, who was protesting with her 14-year-old daughter Madeline on Sunday morning.

It’s a motive that even raises questions about the timing of the ruling’s release, she told The Independent.

“There’s a strategic reason to the timing of the Supreme Court’s decision,” she said.

“The January 6 hearings are shaking things up and I know they are changing people’s minds and they have been very disruptive and very explosive with the information they have been releasing.

“So they’ve got to distract from it… if you can turn the focus somewhere else for a while, people won’t be as concerned about what they are hearing.”

While hopeful that no one is willing violence to unfold, she admitted that she “wouldn’t be surprised if [conservatives] wouldn’t mind if things got a little messy”.

Republicans have repeatedly sought to downplay the events of January 6.

This January, Mr Cruz famously walked back comments about the Capitol rioters after coming under pressure from his party and right-wing pundits.

The Texas lawmaker had called the Capitol riot – where pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, attacked police officers and hunted lawmakers to try to stop the election being certified for now-president Joe Biden – a “violent terrorist attack”.

But, he was vilified for his comments, including by Tucker Carlson who has largely used his Fox News show to downplay the events of the day that culminated in five deaths.

In a groveling appearance on Mr Carlson’s show days later, Mr Cruz claimed he had been only referring to rioters who attacked police and not the “patriots” at the Capitol that day.

Just a few months later, Mr Cruz is now showing no signs of walking back his comments where he branded pro-choice demonstrators “violent”.

Protesters feel that the stark difference in the messaging being pushed by some conservatives and the reality on the ground is both intentional and politically motivated.

A scare tactic

Kristen, 46, believes the narrative of violence being pushed is also a tactic to scare people away from exercising their right to protest.

“They want to scare people away from showing up,” she said.

“I think it’s all designed to keep people home and keep people quiet. But we don’t want to be quiet.”

She and Madeline had been on their way to DC from their home in Ohio for a sporting event for Madeline when Roe was overturned. They decided to stay and join the protests.

Carol Folk traveled from her assisted living home in Virginia to protest outside the US Supreme Court on Saturday

Ohio is one of the 13 states which had a trigger law in place to ban abortion once Roe was overturned.

Any concerns about possible violence at the Supreme Court were overruled by the fact that Madeline now feels “unsafe and unprotected” in her home state.

“This is too important not to be here,” said the teenager.

So far, though tensions are undeniably high, the violence appears to be little more than a myth.

Outside the Supreme Court over the weekend, pro-choice demonstrators and anti-abortion activists shouted at each other but – aside from a few minor scuffles – nothing appeared to turn physical.

Even when far-right conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman interrupted the protest on Friday night and sought to antagonise the crowd by shouting that the women gathered were too “ugly” and “morbidly obese” to get pregnant and told them to “get back to the kitchen”, they were escorted safely out of the area with the help of anti-violence activists.

At one point, some pro-choice demonstrators were even spotted having friendly conversations with the other side of the debate.

The US Capitol Police confirmed to The Independent on Monday that officers had made only two arrests since Friday’s ruling, when two suspects were arrested on Saturday afternoon for allegedly throwing paint over the fence of the court.

Meanwhile, the DC Metropolitan Police Department said it had arrested only one man from Florida during the weekend’s protests after he climbed up the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge.

Married couple Mary and Brandon Paris said that the pro-choice protesters had proven the conservative critics wrong.

“We’ve been here having conversations with them,” Mary said about the anti-abortion demonstrators.

Eva said she and her friend had come to the Supreme Court to represent women of colour who can no longer access abortion

The couple, both 26, are originally from Florida but now live in New Jersey. They travelled to the Capitol on Saturday to join the people protesting in support of women’s healthcare and reproductive rights.

“I think they were anticipating people to be angry and come out and they did but it doesn’t have to be an attack,” said Paris.

“I think it speaks to the intelligence and poise of the correct side to be here and be peaceful.”

‘I’m not worried about these people’

The potential for violence is, however, still a concern for some.

Kristen admitted she is concerned that demonstrations could take a turn for the worse, but her concerns are not related to her fellow pro-choice activists.

“Frankly the way gun laws are right now it is scary to come and protest as you do know that the other side have weapons. So, that is a little frightening,” she said.

In recent months, the US has been rocked by a string of mass shootings -- including the massacre in an elementary school in Uvalde and racist attack in a grocery store in Buffalo.

Despite how gun violence has been soaring, on Thursday – just one day before Roe was overturned – the Supreme Court loosened gun laws even further.

“The forced birthers are my biggest concern as if someone has an idea in their mind that the ends justify the means then violence quickly becomes possible very quickly,” said Zoe.

“These people I can tell you are probably 99 percent against guns also so I’m not worried about these people. These are not the ones that are on my list.”

Zoe added that she did have second thoughts about coming to the Supreme Court with Matilda.

“It really bummed me out that I had to take [concerns of violence] into account,” she said.

“Is there going to be a lunatic with a gun? Is there going to be a lunatic with a car? Is there going to be a lunatic? And that made me sad that I have to worry not only about my rights but that violence could befall us.

“My biggest concern was the other side feeling like they are agents of change or agents of morality and as such would we be targets?”

Domestic violent extremism

Abortion providers and activists have a long history of being targeted by violence.

The National Abortion Federation, who has been tracking violence against abortion providers and clinics since 1977, revealed that in 2021 incidents of assault and battery outside clinics rose by 128 percent from the previous year.

Following the release of the ruling on Friday, there have been reports of some violent chatter among extremists on both sides of the political aisle.

In Telegram posts, far-right extremists called on “American Patriots” to bear arms and defend churches and pregnancy centres, reported The Washington Post.

“Guard and protect your local church. Guard and protect your local pregnancy centers. Call them in advance. Bring rifles and men with you,” read one post.

Meanwhile, in a social media post, Republican consultant Colton Duncan called for people to “shoot to kill” pro-choice protesters who he claimed would turn violent, reported Newsweek.

On the other side, far-left extremists known as “Jane’s Revenge” had reportedly called for “a night of rage” once the ruling came down.

Last week, in anticipation of the Supreme Court decision, the Department of Homeland Security warned of threats from domestic violent extremists for several weeks after the ruling’s release.

The DHS said that federal judges and state lawmakers would be the most likely targets for violence over the ruling, followed by abortion rights protests, abortion clinics and family advocacy centers.

Across the country, there has been a handful of violent incidents in the wake of the ruling.

A crisis pregnancy centre was torched in Colorado. Windows were smashed at another centre in Virginia.

In Portland, some businesses were vandalised over the weekend during a night of protests and, in Arizona, police deployed tear gas outside the state Capitol.

Demonstrators outside the nation’s highest court on Friday

Over in Los Angeles, one protester was arrested for firing a makeshift flamethrower into the crowd.

There, law enforcement also came under fire as footage widely shared on social media shows LAPD officers throwing Full House actor Jodie Sweetin to the ground and pushing, throwing, and hitting other peaceful protesters with their hands and batons.

In his address to the nation after Roe was overturned, President Joe Biden had urged for peaceful protests and non-violence.

Just one week earlier, the president had signed into law a bill providing increased security for Supreme Court justices.

The Supreme Court Police Parity Act extends security to the justices’ immediate family members, granting them similar protections to those already provided for family members of certain executive and legislative branch officials.

The bill’s passage came as the issue of security came under spotlight after the leak of the draft majority opinion in May led to protests outside the homes of the six conservative justices and an alleged assassination plot on Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s life.

Weeks after the leak, a 26-year-old man was arrested for allegedly travelling to Justice Kavanaugh’s home in Maryland with the plot to kill him.

Republicans sharply focused on the plot, tying it to the peaceful protests at the homes. Mr Cruz described them as “violent”.

An organiser for pro-choice activist group Ruth Sent Us told The Independent before Friday’s ruling that the people outside the justices’ homes are a “motley crew of protesters who have sworn non-violence” with no connection to the man charged with the attempted murder of Justice Kavanaugh.

Members of the group have themseleves been subjected to threats and doxing, they said.

As Zoe watched over Matilda in her pram surrounded by people peacefully chanting and waving homemade signs, she told The Independent she believes that the conservative effort to paint peaceful protesters as “extremists” is all part of the effort to paint the pro-choice movement overall as people who “are here to murder babies”.

“I think they want to paint us as extremists as that works for their political messaging and when you have vilified the other team so much it can give people permission to respond with violence and force,” she said.

“So if they paint us as evil and militarised groomers who are here to murder babies that’s an easy group to get your base riled up about.

“It works for them as a political point to be able to say ‘look at these lunatics’ and make us the enemy.”

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