How to Get Away With Murder Incitement Case File #3
Posted on September 23, 2016
Case File #3: Scott Philip Roeder (1958 –)1
a. Biographical facts
Scott Roeder was born in Denver and grew up in Topeka, Kansas. He was said to have had a good relationship with his loving father, a Methodist minister, but had rebelled as a teenager. A high school acquaintance described him as a “stoner.”2 Roeder was married to Linda Roeder for ten years and divorced in 1996. They had a son. Roeder also once sued for visitation rights with his child from a second failed relationship. Visitation was denied partly on grounds that Roeder had once been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was not taking meds, but visitation was allowed later under supervision. Roeder was not allowed to tell the child he was the father.
Roeder had also been diagnosed as bipolar. Linda believed that Roeder was clinically paranoid. (Sylvester, 2010; Devin Friedman, 2010.)
Even though she was pro-choice and an Obama supporter, if you asked her she’d still say she and Scott were soul mates, and that she’d always believed there was a chance Scott would change back to the person she’d met and they’d be together again. (Devin Friedman, 2010.)
At his murder trial, Scott Roeder testified that he was converted to conservative Christianity in the early 1990’s by watching Pat Robertson’s 700 Club on TV. He reportedly became interested in anti-tax extremist groups partly as a result of his own financial difficulties. He apparently absorbed his antiabortion extremism from those groups.
Roeder has been convicted in 1996 on a weapons charge incurred while driving with an illegal license plate that claimed sovereign immunity, presumably related to his membership in One Supreme Court, a Kansas Freemen group (Thomas, 2009a). The Kansas group was an off-shoot of the Montana Freemen, a racist Christian Identity group. Roeder had trained with the Montana group shortly before its March-June 1996 armed confrontation with the FBI. Roeder was arrested on April 16, 3 days before the anniversary of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and 15 months after John Salvi murdered two abortion clinic receptionists in Brookline MA. Roeder’s wife later said he had told their son he had intended to use the explosives in his trunk to attack an abortion clinic. After Roeder served 8 months in prison the weapons charge was overturned as based on evidence obtained by an illegal search.
Later Roeder associated with The Army of God group, which supports killing abortion doctors (Case File #9, forthcoming). He reportedly considered himself a member (the group has no formal membership). At the time of the murder Roeder belonged to a study group on Messianic Judaism (Thomas, 2010), which had no established links to violence. However, Roeder was exposed to Christian Reconstructionist and Christian Identity ideas that support violent revolution to establish a theonomy. (AOG’s leader Michael Bray is a Christian Reconstructionist; Pat Robertson was influenced by Reconstructionism).3
Roeder was influenced by national rhetoric such as the “Tiller must be stopped” slogan (Case File #16 on Glenn Beck). He was part of the Wichita antiabortion movement (Case File #2 on Operation Rescue). Thomas (2009a) reports:
One post [signed by a “Scott Roeder”], dated Sept. 3, 2007 and placed on a site sponsored by Operation Rescue called www.chargetiller.com,4 said that Tiller needed to be “stopped.” “It seems as though what is happening in Kansas could be compared to the ‘lawlessness’ which is spoken of in the Bible,” it said. “Tiller is the concentration camp ‘Mengele’ of our day and needs to be stopped before he and those who protect him bring judgment upon our nation.”5
Roeder reportedly glued the locks on a Kansas City, Kansas abortion clinic on two separate occasions in the weeks prior to Tiller’s murder, an apparent violation of the federal FACE act. The clinic reported both incidences and provided videotapes to the FBI, which took no action. The FBI has declined to comment on these events (Bauer and Thomas, 2009).
At Roeder’s trial, an observer described Roeder as bearing a heavy mantle of wounded innocence. The judge disallowed a formal necessity defense. Roeder testified that he killed Tiller based on his own beliefs about abortion. On January 29, 2010 after deliberating for 37 minutes, a Wichita jury convicted Roeder of first degree murder.
b. Legal action
Roeder’s crime did not meet conditions required for the Kansas death penalty or life without parole. On April 1, 2010 he was sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison, the harshest available penalty. On appeal, the Kansas Supreme Court ordered a resentencing before a jury. That process is still pending.
The federal government arguably could have tried Roeder either as a domestic terrorist or as a murderer in interstate commerce, with a potential sentence of either death or life without parole, but declined to do so. No public statements have been made about the reasoning behind this decision. Roeder could also have been given life without parole under the federal FACE act. The decision to pursue state rather than federal charges would normally be made by negotiation between the U.S. Attorney and the Sedgwick County District Attorney. However federal authorities reportedly did investigate whether charges might be brought against a larger conspiracy. The results of that inquiry were never made public.
c. Psychological analysis
I can’t pretend to provide the definitive analysis of why Roeder did what he did. I am not a psychologist. I have not interviewed Roeder, and I have not searched for data on Roeder beyond the more obvious sources, as documented in these Case Files.6
In general terms, I believe Scott Roeder was a narcissistic man who resolved the contradiction between the fact of his personal inadequacy and his fantasy of grandiose achievement by perpetrating an act of great violence that could achieve notoriety for Roeder without requiring great skill or effort. The chosen target of violence served two purposes. Instrumentally, George Tiller was a controversial and widely known figure whose assassination could attract broad and nationwide attention. Symbolically, Roeder’s intervention could set a topsy-turvy world right.
Tiller represented a violation of the natural order, a man who penetrated the sacred space of the womb to commit murder, and who did so with impunity. Roeder’s own situation also violated the natural order, in that his destiny and worth were not being recognized. Moreover both violations were caused by the government—actively in Roeder’s case (e.g., through unfair taxation), passively in Tiller’s case (e.g., failure to prosecute murder). By means of assassination, Roeder actively did what the government should have done to Tiller. By means of the government’s retaliation against Roeder, Roeder would passively achieve the world-wide renown he deserved. On each side of the ledger, activity was balanced by passivity and wrong was balanced by right.
While I have no direct evidence, I imagine that notions of manliness played an important role. We do know that Roeder felt attached to his son and his ex-wife and desired their love and respect. Roeder also sought visitation rights with a son by another liaison. It seems likely that Roeder’s sense of economic failure partly reflected humiliation at his inability to be an effective provider and father. Tiller as killer of children represented the opposite of provider for children, while killing an anti-provider (a negation of a negation) symbolically makes one into a provider. Moreover, an act of masculine violence tended to prop up Roeder’s shaky faith in his own masculinity (Case File #29 on pro-violent masculinity, forthcoming).
Changing economic conditions may also have played a role. Roeder came of age in the first extended time period in U.S. history when a white male with only a high school degree would no longer have a high likelihood of finding a stable job that could support a family. At the same time, job opportunities for women and blacks were opening up, and it was easy to see the latter as the cause of the former. Yet role expectations for males had not shifted: men who could not support a family were (and still are) viewed as less than fully masculine. Hence a sense of humiliation became a class issue that led to ressentiment among working class and downwardly mobile white males, often closely linked to racism and misogyny. The antiabortion movement is a natural outlet for veiled misogyny (though not racism7) because it seeks to deprive women of power over their bodies and reproductive lives.8
At the same time, role expectations for males (especially but not only among right-wingers) were bound up with a capacity for effective use of violence (Case File #29). Moreover, violence is a specific remedy for humiliation in an ancient biological sense: humiliation refers to unfair or unaccepted shaming or stigma induction that tends to reduce social status in a pecking order, while successful violence against a higher ranking individual is a major path for climbing up the pecking order.
We should also not discount the force of ideology, which gave Roeder ethical justifications for action. Roeder saw Tiller as a man who violated both God’s law and human law with impunity, protected by political connections in a corrupt system. As to abstract justice, assassinating Tiller served not only God’s demand for an eye-for-an-eye retribution, but also the human need to get a killer off the streets and deter future killers. As to Roeder’s personal and concrete warrant to act, God’s wrath against American society posed an imminent danger to everyone, including Roeder—hence killing Tiller was in fact an act of self-defense (Case File #26, forthcoming). Moreover, framing abortion as genocide provides a quasi-legal warrant for private action (Case File #28, forthcoming). However Roeder’s main justification was a rescue fantasy: he saw himself as martyr who put his body on the line to save babies.
Roeder was within normal bounds for quality of cognitive function, but his rhetoric and self-justifications are based on shallow, unexamined, unidimensional cliches. He was a simple dupe for demagogues.
As to outside influences, almost9 every major branch of the radical right had an important role to play in this drama. In roughly chronological order, I believe the strongest influences on Roeder’s decision to murder Tiller were as follows.
Pat Robertson’s Protestant Right televangelism convinced Roeder that the American government was illegitimate and oppressive, and hence the taxes Roeder paid were unfair. He also convinced Roeder that abortion was a horrendous crime. These new beliefs helped recruit Roeder from a condition of passive ressentiment into a condition of mobilized ressentiment. (See Case File #30, forthcoming).
The Freemen militia extremists convinced Roeder that violent action against an illegitimate government was justified as self-defense.
The antiabortion movement convinced Roeder that an effective action against evil was available, was justified, and would receive wide approbation. While the “fringe” movement was most explicit, the “mainstream” movement not only lent powerful encouragement, but also demonstrated the existence of widespread support for action.
The rise of Kansas movement conservatives with the support of the Koch family and other libertarians led to the election of Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline. Actions taken by Kline eventually convinced Roeder that the time for action was now. The triggering event was a massive failure: after an extended legal campaign waged against Tiller by Kline and others, all charges were dismissed, thus demonstrating the inability of government to stop Tiller. The assassination occurred just two months after the dismissal.
Bauer, Laura; and Judy L. Thomas. 2009. “Operation Rescue adviser helped Tiller suspect track doctor’s court dates,” McClatchy Washington Bureau, Wednesday, June 03 (accessed September 16, 2016 at
Friedman, Devin. 2010. “Big Issues—Savior v. Savior,” GQ, February (accessed September 16, 2016 at http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201002/abortion-debate-george-tiller-scott-roeder)
Leach, David. 2010. Scott Roeder’s Post-Trial Statement (Part 1), February 5 (video with embedded transcript, accessed September 16, 2016 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkIw_fqmC1k)
Leach, David. 2013. Scott Roeder interviewed by Dave Leach, April 16 (video accessed at September 16, 2016 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vyhlSI_yoY)
Sylvester, Ron. 2010. “Abortion issue front and center in Roeder murder trial,” The Wichita Eagle, January 10 (accessed September 16, 2016 at http://www.kansas.com/2010/01/10/1130385/abortion-issue-front-and-center.html)
Thomas, Judy L. 2009a. “Suspect in Tiller’s death supported killing abortion providers, friends say,” McClatchy Washington Bureau, June 1 (accessed August 29, 2016 at http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article24540346.html)
Thomas, Judy L. 2010. “Two ex-roommates of abortion doctor’s killer tell of grand jury appearances,” The Kansas City Star, Saturday, October 9 (accessed October 9, 2010 at http://www.kansascity.com/2010/10/08/2292821/two-ex-roommates-of-abortion-doctors.html; no longer available)