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After church protests, consultants warn extremists might exploit abortion demonstrations

WASHINGTON (RNS) — Spiritual leaders, governmental authorities and extremism consultants say they’re disquieted by a spate of incidents that passed off at Catholic church buildings over the weekend, elevating issues about vandalism and the potential for white nationalists to use escalating tensions concerning abortion.

What’s extra, consultants warn that faith-fueled right-wing extremist teams could also be planning to seem at different occasions to problem supporters of abortion rights.

The incidents over the weekend adopted days of demonstrations exterior the Supreme Court docket and elsewhere within the wake of a leaked draft opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito. The draft signaled the court docket would overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which legalized abortion nationwide.

Rumors circulated all through the week that activists who help abortion rights had been planning widespread protests at Catholic church buildings throughout the nation. Church leaders have lengthy burdened the custom’s opposition to abortion and advocated towards it, although current polling signifies most U.S. Catholics help conserving abortion authorized in all or most instances and a good bigger majority opposes overturning Roe v. Wade.

“I’m one in every of 68% of Catholics in america who don’t need to see Roe versus Wade struck down,” Jamie Manson, head of Catholics for Selection, mentioned in a speech exterior the Supreme Court docket final week. Her group staged its own mostly silent protest at Washington’s Basilica of the Nationwide Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in January, projecting photographs in help of abortion rights onto the church as an anti-abortion vigil was held inside.

Jamie Manson, head of Catholics for Selection, speaks throughout demonstrations in entrance of the U.S. Supreme Court docket, Tuesday, Might 3, 2022, in Washington. RNS photograph by Jack Jenkins

Regardless of warnings, a raft of church demonstrations didn’t, in actual fact, materialize over the weekend. A small group of demonstrators donned in apparel impressed by the present “The Handmaid’s Story” briefly interrupted Mass on the Cathedral of Our Woman of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles earlier than being escorted out by safety. No less than one Catholic church in Colorado was vandalized, with the phrase “My physique my alternative” spray-painted on the church door in purple. Police are reportedly investigating it as a bias-motivated crime, in any other case generally known as a hate crime.

White Home press secretary Jen Psaki appeared to sentence such vandalism whereas chatting with reporters on Monday (Might 9), distinguishing it from peaceable protests that occurred exterior the properties of some justices in current days.

RELATED: How the Capitol attacks helped spread Christian nationalism in the extreme right

“We now have not seen violence or vandalism towards Supreme Court docket justices — we have now seen it at Catholic church buildings. That’s unacceptable,” she mentioned. “The president doesn’t help that.”

On Tuesday, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Convention of Catholic Bishops, and Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Professional-Life Actions, launched a press release in response to the occasions, calling on “Catholics across the nation to affix us in fasting and praying the Rosary” on Friday, the memorial of Our Woman of Fatima. The bishops specified that such prayers ought to be peaceable and inspired Catholics to enchantment to “civility and love.”

However it was a distinct protest, at St. Patrick’s Previous Cathedral in New York Metropolis on Saturday, that attracted probably the most consideration — and raised alarm bells amongst extremism consultants. The raucous however peaceable meeting of abortion rights supporters exterior the church was a part of a long-standing counterprotest group. Usually, they collect to protest a bunch of Catholics who assemble contained in the church earlier than marching to exhibit at a Deliberate Parenthood. 

This weekend’s iteration drew a bigger crowd of abortion rights supporters than uncommon, nonetheless, and a bunch of males gathered in entrance of the church doorways in an obvious effort to guard the church. Footage of the boys praying the rosary was shared by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who lauded them as heroes, saying, “God bless them.”

However at the least one of many males — a person in a blue “America First” cap and a New York Fireplace Division shirt — was filmed heckling the counterprotesters.

”You don’t have any alternative,” he yelled. “Not your physique, not your alternative. Your physique is mine and also you’re having my child!”

He then added, in a softer voice: “Joke, joke.”

Requested for touch upon the protest, a spokesperson for St. Patrick’s referred to an interview performed this week with the Rev. Brian Graebe, the church’s priest, on Fox Information. Graebe denounced the reason for demonstrators who protested in help of abortion rights, but additionally appeared to distance the church from the blue-capped particular person, who was additionally disavowed by the New York Fire Department.

“We did have somebody, sadly, type of hijack the occasion on what he tried to make it appear to be was our facet of the difficulty,” he mentioned. “(He was) saying issues that don’t in any respect characterize our place or standpoint. That was unlucky, as a result of that makes our job rather more troublesome.”

It was not instantly clear if the person was affiliated with America First, a Christian nationalist group whose associates typically name themselves “Groypers” and are led by Nick Fuentes, a right-wing provocateur extensively decried as a white nationalist. Fuentes, who’s Catholic, shared footage of the boys praying on the church on his Telegram web page 3 times, and the heckler’s distinctive blue hat seemed to be equivalent to the variability worn by devotees of America First during an anti-vaccine demonstration in New York in November, when members additionally held aloft crucifixes and shouted a favourite chant: “Christ is King!”

Alex Bradley Newhouse, deputy director of Middlebury School’s Heart on Terrorism, Extremism and Counterterrorism, famous that devotees of America First — whose branded gear was worn by participants in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection — have appeared at different anti-abortion occasions this 12 months as effectively. America First flags had been hoisted on the March for Life, an enormous annual anti-abortion gathering in Washington, D.C., and one other white nationalist group — Patriot Entrance — marched near the rally, a lot to the frustration of organizers.

RELATED: At March for Life, a mix of triumph and apprehension

“America First and the Groyper motion, alongside extra fringe teams like Patriot Entrance, pose a big concern for escalating tensions and battle surrounding the abortion rights debates,” Newhouse advised RNS in an e-mail. “America First is deeply enmeshed with an overlapping, more and more violent community of extremist milieus, together with Christian Nationalism, incel communities, white nationalist networks, and even some hyperlinks out to accelerationist networks. There may be previous indication that accelerationist and neofascist teams like Patriot Entrance are prepared to make use of anti-abortion activism to attempt to create alliances throughout actions, as effectively.”

He added: “Because of this, the circumstances are sadly primed for unification and escalation from these actions.”

Jared Holt, extremism skilled and resident fellow on the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Analysis Lab, famous {that a} distinguished consumer of Fuentes’ on-line streaming platform has known as for individuals to counter-protest “proabortionist demons” later this week.

“Given right-wing extremists’ long-standing notion that the anti-abortion motion is a pleasant venue to their trigger and their ever-present need to insert themselves into tense political debates, there’s actual concern that right-wing extremists might seem at pro-choice protests with the intent of agitating and intimidating rallygoers,” Holt mentioned.

“For white nationalists particularly, opposition to abortion is a centerpiece of their worldview constructed on preserving and defending the bulk energy of a white ruling class.”

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