A reader writes:

I was initially shocked about the news of Dr. Tiller’s slaying. However, I’m now a bit surprised it actually took this long to happen, the more I think about it. You see, for about 18 months (circa 20002002) I was one of the protestors at the clinic.

I still remember the routine. Saturday morning: wake up by 6:30 am, walk out the door by 7 am with my rosary in hand. Park a block away from the clinic by the car dealership. It didn’t matter if it was snowing or sleeting: you don’t give a rat’s ass about your hands freezing if you believe that you are helping to save lives. And that’s what I was hoping to do merely by being there and praying, as stupid as this idea now sounds.

The “attendance” fluctuated but there were always some constants: the “sidewalk counselors” (all women) or women who would talk very loudly next to the clinic walls, because supposedly those inside the clinic next to the wall could hear you. Everyone else seemed to do one of two things. The Catholics (Kapaun/Bishop Carroll high school students and some boomer-age adults) would usually stand silently with signs or pray the rosary. The fundamentalists/evangelicals would sing those annoying but innocuous praise songs but near the end of my protest “tenure” I noticed more and more reading of the Bible as well.

And of course they always seemed to choose the passages talking about “the LORD shall bless the righteous but sinners he shall smite” and the like. They said it with force, like they meant it. After a while, it got incredibly eerie. Basically, the language O’Reilly or Operation Rescue uses to describe Tiller’s activities was not isolated, but was pervasive among the fundamentalists locally and only seemed to get worse as time went on.

Email newsletters from these people -- not just the higher ups -- spoke of Tiller being guilty of “blood libel”, aborted fetuses’ “blood crying out for vengeance”, “death mills”, etc. These people not only spoke the language of the Old Testament but saw themselves as part of its narrative. They are Jonah warning Ninevah (Wichita) prophesizing about its wickedness (Tiller’s clinic). They are David up against Goliath (Tiller). There were endless calls for this “atrocity to end” and that “abortion in Wichita will end when the Church of Jesus Christ decides it will end”. The radicalism seemed to endlessly feed back on itself.

This had been going on for years now. When these people said that Tiller’s practices must be “brought to an end” or whatever, I truly believe that the vast, vast, vast majority of them (including the OR president, whom I’ve talked to about this before) do not have homicide on their minds. However, it doesn’t matter. Operation Rescue or Bill O’Reilly do not qualify every statement about Tiller with a parenthetical stating “oh, by the way, killing him is not the way to stop him” for obvious reasons. But even if they did, they can’t stop someone from thinking that more drastic measures are “necessary”.

This is why yesterday’s Dissents of the Day miss the point. It doesn’t matter that “baby killer” could be factually accurate. Once you start perpetuating these loaded memes that excite people’s emotions, all it takes is someone who is a bit crazier than the others for events like yesterday’s to happen. Sometimes I wonder if I need to come up with a new label for myself other than “pro life” just to distance myself from them.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.