One of the more notorious former Planned Parenthood employees who is now making a living off being a former Planned Parenthood employee has started a new ministry. Here she is, standing outside of a clinic where abortions (among other things) are provided, with a sign advertising that project:
When I saw this photo on Twitter, I got chills.
I’m not exaggerating. I had an immediate, visceral reaction. Given the history of assassinations, bombings, and other violence against the staff and volunteers who work at abortion clinics, I see a sign like this and I see a threat.
And Then There Were None was the American title for one of Agatha Christie’s better-known mysteries. [The book’s original title used a singularly offensive, racist epithet from a nursery rhyme. In the U.S., that title was modified to be offensive in a way I suppose they felt was more culturally “appropriate” for our market. Charming. Changing the title to And Then There Were None was the right move.] You can see that title, along with an equally offensive illustration, on Wikipedia.
Also from that source, a quick description of the plot and novel’s popularity:
In the novel, ten people who had been complicit in the death(s) of other human beings but either escaped notice or were not subject to legal sanction, are tricked or lured into coming to an island. Although they are the only people on the island, and cannot escape due to the distance from the mainland and the inclement weather, each guest is killed in a manner seeming to parallel the deaths enumerated in the nursery rhyme.
It is Christie’s best-selling novel with 100 million sales to date, making it the world’s best-selling mystery ever, and one of the best-selling books of all time.
I can’t be the only one who finds it disturbing that the name of this program recalls a novel in which those who are perceived as having perpetrated some wrong are hunted down, one by one, until none are left, can I?
Don’t you think that a clinic employee who works in an industry in which death threats are a common occurrence would perceive a sign like this as a threat, even if they have never heard of this book?
In the context of a whole different kerfuffle, blogger David Roberts recently offered this very well-phrased explanation of what I’m saying:
… language is a social phenomenon, a social act, and meaning is created collectively, in the spaces between and among people. When you use language that is freighted with social meaning, you are responsible for that meaning, even if you did not “intend” it.
A phrase like and then there were none, after 100 million copies of the book have sold, and the plot turned into multiple movies, stage productions, and radio shows, is rather weighed down with social meaning.
A sign like this carries even more weight in the context of a movement in which, time after time, a person steps up, after marinading in messages of hate, to commit a crime of violence against someone who works providing abortion care, believing she or he is justified and even called by a god to commit that crime, and is immediately dismissed as having acted alone.
The people who started this organization, who hold this sign in this photo, might claim to have never read the book and not intended to make this allusion. Too bad. The phrase “and then there were none” is almost inherently menacing and sinister. They are not absolved of responsibility. They are contributing to a climate that says anything goes when it comes to offering incentives to stop people from going to work in clinics, including implicit threats of violence. They will be responsible the next time a “lone wolf” emerges to commit violence against a clinic worker.