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63-year-old pro-lifer gunned down; local teen says punching him would have been sufficient

By now I'm sure my readers know about the double murder in my state of Michigan yesterday. Suspect Harlan Drake allegedly confessed to police that he had a list in his head of three people he intended to kill. One was 63-year-old pro-lifer Jim Pouillon, locally known as the "sign man." The murderer gunned down Pouillon in a drive-by shooting before multiple witnesses. Drake told police that he was "offended" by Pouillon's pictures of aborted babies. A second victim, apparently murdered for an unrelated reason, was gravel pit owner Mike Fuoss. Drake was arrested after the murder of Fuoss, and there was no third victim.

Other conservative bloggers are pointing out the MSM's obvious inconsistency in making a near saint out of late-term abortionist Tiller while virtually ignoring this story. (It isn't coming up in the AP feed on Yahoo, that's for sure.)

But I have a different angle. Buried in one of the local news stories was an appalling statement from a 16-year-old boy who apparently attended the high school where Pouillon was murdered. (Well, it was buried in a local news story. It was here yesterday but seems to have been expunged. I didn't get a screen capture, so you'll have to take my word for it. It has been preserved here in a CBS News story.) Thus spoke high schooler Curtis Wisterman: “I can see someone spitting on him or punching him, but shooting him is pretty stupid. It's not something you expect in Owosso."

Charming. A pro-abortion thug in the making. I don't imagine Curtis is earning his merit badge helping little old ladies across the street. If he is, the ladies better watch their purses. And shooting Jim Pouillon was stupid. A full-throated condemnation, that. If Drake had simply gotten out of the truck, punched Pouillon and spat on him, that would have been enough.

Comments (46)


As MacIntyre predicted nearly three decades ago in After Virtue, the clandestine emotivism lurking underneath the "rationalism" of secular liberal democracy cannot be hidden indefinitely.

This is why, for example, in the discussion over the APA's sexual orientation policy some of our friends, who consider themselves apologists for reason and social justice, generously helped themselves to the sort of language that if issued by those to their political right they would without hesitancy label it as "hate speech."

Without a shared understanding of the common good, the nature of man, and the ends of political institutions terms like "social justice," "autonomy," and "rights" become vacuous slogans that double as blunt instruments for silencing dissent.


I was just very struck by how young this kid was to be saying such things. When that comes out of the mouth of a 16-year-old, one wonders where he got such an idea. Did his teachers talk that way about this guy when they saw him outside? Did the students talk this way among themselves? Did they ever actually see anyone punch or spit on him, and if so, what was said about it in the school?

I'm reminded of the Columbine shooting. I was living in Denver at the time, and I distinctly remember reading the paper the following day, which contained a shocking quote from one of the students. He said, "This kind of thing is supposed to happen in the south." I was stunned that no mention was ever made of such an unbelievably callous remark in those circumstances, but then again, there was enough stupid commentary coming from the grown-ups at the time to drown it out.

I'm not even sure I get the Columbine kid's remark. Is it supposed to be a kind of insult to the South? "That's where all the nuts live"?

It seems to me that a parallel in the Columbine case would have been if someone said, "Yeah, those guys who were picking on them were real jerks, but they shouldn't have come shooting up the whole school. Instead, they should just have torched the houses of the jerks who picked on them." Something like that.

As one who attended high school in the same county as Columbine, and who lives not two miles from the first round of what became known as the New Life Church shootings, I'm inclined to give dopey teen commentators a break. This is a new experience for them. They've seen so many fake murders on TV they don't know how to show respect for the dead.

Of more concern to me is why the reporters thought those presumably authentic quotes would add to the story.

I dunno. I find it hard to think of this endorsement of punching an old guy standing around with a sign as merely "dopey" or even a failure of respect for the dead. How about a failure of respect for a harmless human being, period? Was this kid going around while Pouillon was still alive thinking how cool or at least okay it would be to punch him out and/or spit on him? Was this discussed? One story I saw mentioned that Pouillon _had_ been spat on in the course of his career as the sign guy. Did people know about this, and was it endorsed in this kids' peer group? And what's the connection with abortion? Obviously, the teenager's saying this means that he thinks Pouillon was doing something _really bad_, something that made it understandable that someone might punch him or spit on him. That translates IMO to some pretty heavy-duty pro-abortion opinions he has absorbed: Guy who stands around holding signs showing pictures of aborted babies probably deserves to be punched out.

Just be glad you don't read the comments of various sites where that story was posted, Lydia. One comment stand-out (of course, anonymous) comments off the top of my head.

"Good riddance. If you **** with my civil rights, don't be surprised when someone defends them."

That 16 year old's response stood out to me as well. As has this comparative silence.

I'm not convinced that this callous teenager has absorbed, either by indoctrination or cultural osmosis, any ethical doctrine so specific as to entail the conclusion that an elderly pro-life activist deserved an assault. Rather, knowing what I know about teenagers - or what anyone else knows about them, for that matter - I suspect that this was a case of the intrusion of the normative upon the narcissistic, wherein, over a period of time, the solipsistic universe of this teen was pierced by a summons to thought, reflection, and perhaps action that would not have originated in the volition of the teen himself. The presence of a pro-life demonstrator, of an insistent demonstrator of any persuasion, would have summoned him to think about things he had not chosen to think about, to embrace an ethical obligation which he had not ordained for himself; his splendid psychic immobility thus disturbed, intimating that he might not be the center of any sort of universe at all, he was bound to lash out in resentment. I'm dubious that the pro-life message was uniquely the trigger; he'd have said much the same thing about an animal rights activist or a feminist.

You mean, Jeff, that it was something like, "What was that guy doing anyway, putting stuff in people's faces? He should just leave people alone," etc., etc.?

I don't know. I find it kind of hard to imagine him saying that, especially about spitting on him, about an animal rights activist. Just doesn't fit somehow.

Well, yes, I do mean something like that, which would seem to me to be the natural default interpretation of callousness and barbarity among teenagers, in the absence of any additional information. I mean, we don't have any account of this teenager explicitly affirming the sacrament of death, do we?

Maybe the boy felt that he had to show that he was politically correct enough to 'understand' that protesting abortion isn't nice? You know, with 'graphic' signs and everything?

Maximos, I'm unconvinced. No, there isn't anything else about this particular boy, but there's plenty of evidence that advocating violence against pro-lifers is a "thing" in our society far more than advocating violence against PETA sign-holders. Joseph A has cited some such evidence, and I've afflicted myself with just a tiny bit of the commentary on this story. The unhinged left actually goes a good deal farther than advocating merely punching or spitting on pro-lifers. I think that he meant what he said because of something about this particular guy, and it seems to me implausible that it was just that he was holding a sign about something or other and that that "bugged" people. The equivalence stuff just doesn't wash. There really is a growing idea that people who stand with signs protesting abortion, and _especially_ with pictures of aborted children, are doing something equivalent to publishing p*rnography and are horrible people. (For that matter, even pro-lifers often distance themselves from sign-holding, much less sign-holding with unpleasant pictures.) I think it doesn't take much imagination to figure that this kid had picked up some of that total social rejection of Pouillon, because of his approach, as utterly "beyond the pale" and hence fair game for mistreatment.

Sorry guys, while I sympathize with the concerns, I really think you're reading too much into the kid's words. The simpler explanation is that he is a 16 year old boy and is reasoning true to type.

If you really have a disagreement with someone then take it outside and rough them up, but there's no need to pull a gun.

Something like this is more likely his intended meaning. Furthermore, the comment, coming from a 16 year old under such circumstances, is probably directed towards the action he witnessed rather than its victim.

You take them outside and spit on them? Doesn't that indicate a particular level of contempt? To me, the picture of "punching or spitting on" I get is of going up to somebody (this particular guy, pictured standing there with a sign) who is not expected to retaliate and doing something exceedingly insulting to indicate contempt for him and for what he is doing.

It's interesting that I'm encountering so many different interpretations of this. To my mind, the fact that he is 16 doesn't mean that we shouldn't take what he says at face value and seriously. To me, we should take it _all the more_ seriously, because he's so young that it's all the more shocking that he said something like this.

When I was a sixteen year old, forty some years ago, the kids from my high school congregated at the beach during the summer, when we weren't working or going to Summer school. Most families went to church in those days. Most of us did. I did.

There was an itinerant preacher man who carried a big American flag and a Bible who stalked the Beach, preaching, singing and reading scripture. All loudly. Because we were a large group he was drawn to us. After a short stint, we asked him politely to leave. He didn't. He got even louder. We asked him more strongly to leave. Profanity was used. Threats followed. No effect. Several guys got up and crowded around him, jostling. While they were doing that, another guy pissed down the front of his pants.

He never came back again and gave us a wide berth.

Christian busybodies should mind their own business and leave normal people alone. To do otherwise is to tempt fate. What fate you tempt depends entirely on the people you annoy.

Yeah, standing around just holding a sign outside of a high school is obviously the same thing as following people around at the beach yelling loudly at them. And if somebody does that to you, calling the police is of course not an option. You have to rough him up in various unpleasant and even obscene ways.

And I notice the endorsement of not only assault but, implicitly, of murder. Mr. Drake just couldn't stand the thought of _not_ driving over to the school and shooting to death this guy holding a sign that "offended" him.

Well, if this is the kind of lovely stuff Curtis Wisterman has been listening to, we know where his ideas came from.

By the way, I will be monitoring this thread. Trolls who endorse murder get one warning, if that. This is yours, reddog.

Wow Reddog, that was a study in senility. The rapidity with which you moved from pastoral nostalgia to inane and incompetent comparisons is sign #1.

It is also a gross self-exposure that forty years of reflection hasn't taught you that peeing on someone isn't something that should be admired--least of all looking across forty years at your immature teenage friends.

Sorry Lydia, I shouldn't stoke any foolish fires.

Concerning your last on-topic post, you have a valid point about taking what he said at face value. At face value it remains unclear what the student meant with what is, if nothing else, a very stupid comment. But at face value, it just sounds too much like the sort of thing I heard in high school on a weekly basis (and still hear). You're right that it's contempt, but just of a more general nature.

That isn't to say that the quote isn't rife with material for a critique of our youth. I just don't think it was the pro-life issue in particular that the student's comments are connected with.

Brett is on the right track Lydia. Lord of the Flies is a fictional story, but it speaks to something true and savage about the nature of teenage boys.

We all know about the deranged vitriol that is out there against pro-lifers, especially those who carry signs like Pouillon did. The example Joseph A cited is a good one. This hatred goes much farther than just endorsing punching and spitting to endorsing the murder itself. Surely that cultural context is relevant. Is the idea supposed to be that we cannot connect a comment like Curtis Wisterman's with the issue involved _at all_ unless the person who says it mentions the abortion issue explicitly? Or is the idea that if he'd been 22 instead of 16 and had said these same words the interpretation would have been vastly different?


Of course your interpretation may be correct, I'm certainly not putting anything past our innocent youngsters.

But I would contend that age is relevant to what is the more likely interpretation of the quote. A 16 year old is less likely to see ideas behind actions, or to reason from them to understand motivations/justifications. A 16 year old is much more likely to reason from a situation he is more familiar with like fighting with someone he doesn't agree with, regardless of the disagreement.

I wonder, are you more concerned with what the kid meant or is what he might have meant equally important? Because I'm yet to be convinced that the simpler explanation has been disproved. Although, I wholeheartedly admit that the inclusion of "spitting," other than just being crude, makes me give a little more credence to your interpretation.

Out of battery : /

I suppose I'm most concerned with why he thought it was an acceptable thing to say. It seems to me that somewhere in the mix is the fact that he has gotten the idea "in the air" that Pouillon was an "anti-abortion nut" or something like that and that "people like that" deserve little respect and can legitimately be mistreated (though gunning them down from a truck is going too far and is "stupid").

I think what is telling is the second half of the comment -- about how it was "stupid" to kill someone.

Look at any moral/ethical teaching still left in the public schools, you'll see it's almost entirely based on an "enlightened self-interest" ethic. I don't think this student thought one bit about what the underlying issues were or the demands of human dignity or the value of human life. He was simply parroting the formulas he has been taught:

1. I want to, feel the need to, do something (doesn't matter what).
2. What are the pros and cons to me of doing that thing?
3. How can I maximize the pros and minimize the cons to myself?
4. Is the act still worth doing, and if so what is the smartest way to proceed?

Gangs, drugs, sex, bullying -- all are addressed the same way -- these are things you want to do, the cons outweigh the pros, especially if you do them in certain ways, so don't do them but if you must do them more safely (do graffiti art, not graffiti -- sex with condoms -- drugs or drinking with mom and dad around -- bossing through joining student government instead of playground bullying). The message is not "do good" but instead, "do it if you feel you have to, but be smart about it."

So he doesn't even care if this guy should have assaulted the pro-life activist. His thinking is that the killer wanted to hurt someone; if after consideration the fulfillment of that want was still important, he should have been smart about it.

I agree with Brett; you are reading too much into this boy's words. When I read them, I thought he was saying that he was surprised that anyone in his town would shoot someone -- he could imagine someone being mad enough to punch or spit, but not SHOOT. None of which means that he thought people should have punched or spit on the poor man, or that he knew people who went around punching or spitting at people.

Now, maybe he meant that the man deserved being punched or spat at, but nothing in what is quoted said so, and without any more context we can't know either way. But I have kids and I can imagine them saying something similar in an effort to express surprise at a shooting. And they would NEVER punch or spit on anyone, or agree with anyone who did.

While we are talking about vitriol, I must say that I'm surprised at the vitriol expressed about this -- as in the post above. And shooting someone IS stupid, in every possible way.

I thought he was saying that he was surprised that anyone in his town would shoot someone

As opposed to what he actually said, which was that people in Owosso think shooting someone is stupid, but spitting on or punching him is smart, or at least less stupid than shooting. But by all means give him the benefit of the doubt. He probably meant that all those things are really bad, but shooting is the baddest of all. He just forgot to say it. He was too surprised at hearing that someone had been shot and, in effort to express it, was forced by a limited vocabulary to fall back on moral vacuity . And as we all know of our precious teenagers, moral vacuity is a mask for deep feeling; it is never just what it looks like.

What parent would not be devastated to learn that one of their teenage sons thought spitting on and physically attacking others was acceptable, and worse, that he was quoted to that effect in the national media? I'd feel like an utter failure as a father.

The dehumanizing rhetoric of this young man helps create the climate for murder, at least when directed at an odious cultural subset, and I wonder how the killing of Jim Pouilion will impact the willingness of pro-lifers to continue giving prayerful witness in front of abortuaries. The courage required to do so may have just gone up a notch.

Gail, I took the phrase "I can see" in the sense of "That might make sense," which is a sense in which it is often really used. And I do think that "stupid" is a very poor word for murder in this context. Sounds incredibly understated.

Kevin, I thought of that myself. Most pro-life groups now are kind of "down" on sign-holding on a regular basis. One exception I know is the new 40 Days for Life campaign.

What parent would not be devastated to learn that one of their teenage sons thought spitting on and physically attacking others was acceptable, and worse, that he was quoted to that effect in the national media? I'd feel like an utter failure as a father.

Let's not get too sanctimonious here. This is the same blog, that advocates exporting all Muslims from this country, supports rounding up 10-20 million illegal immigrants, and has more than one contributor that supports torture as a legitimate instrument of the state.

Yeah, exporting non-citizen Muslims is _just like_ punching and spitting on a man peacefully holding a sign protesting abortion. Do leftists have anything that isn't silly moral equivalence-mongering?

Oh, and by the way, Gail, by "deranged vitriol" I mean something a good deal worse than calling someone, including a teenager, a "thug in the making." If you live a suffficiently sheltered life that you haven't encountered any of the real deranged vitriol against pro-lifers, I'm actually glad for you. I don't advocate people's harrowing themselves unnecessarily. But please don't make equivalences when you either do not know what I was actually talking about as "deranged vitriol" or, if you do, are ignoring it.

I would venture most 16 yo are not yet schooled enough in the way of adulthood to properly nuance their words. Hence, you can probably take their words at face value more so than an adult's.

In one sense, you cannot ignore the abortion connection. There is a politically correct target of persecution, and kids are aware of it. This thug did not go out and hunt down an environmentalist protester, nor was he apparently "offended" by one, yet they also display disturbing images (slaughtered seals, etc.).

What parent would not be devastated to learn that one of their teenage sons thought spitting on and physically attacking others was acceptable, and worse, that he was quoted to that effect in the national media? I'd feel like an utter failure as a father.

You're also not a liberal.

There is a politically correct target of persecution, and kids are aware of it.

Exactly. That was my point. In fact, that's the point of this whole post: What does this say about what kids are picking up osmotically concerning acceptable actions and pro-lifers?

It is also a gross self-exposure that forty years of reflection hasn't taught you that peeing on someone isn't something that should be admired--least of all looking across forty years at your immature teenage friends.

It is a lesson in causality and why the Bible says to move on when dealing with unreceptive audiences. The reason being that if you treat the Word and your audience like a sharp stick and a big cat exhibit respectively, at some point you're going to get mauled and you'll only have yourself to blame.

I mean, we don't have any account of this teenager explicitly affirming the sacrament of death, do we?

No, but we do know he has internalized its assumptions, as you indicate later.

Let's not get too sanctimonious here. This is the same blog, that advocates exporting all Muslims from this country, supports rounding up 10-20 million illegal immigrants,

Yep. To be startled by a young man insouciantly reacting to the cold-blooded murder of an elderly man in front of his high school with; why kill him when you can physcically and spiritually degrade him instead? is riding a high-horse.

The reason many of us favor immigration restrictions is to prevent the importation of a creed that holds murder as a legitimate means of rebuking theological dissenters, restoring familial "pride" and punishing petty thievery. We also worry how disputes within the drug trade are typically resolved. In short, we're motivated by a desire to strengthen the social fabric and to minimize violence, yet your response has a sit back and enjoy the carnage, aspect to it.

Most pro-life groups now are kind of "down" on sign-holding on a regular basis.

Lydia, for reasons that have been discussed before on your other threads, I'm opposed to displaying graphic images of aborted babies, just as I am repelled when the AP runs a photo of a Marine dying in Afghanistan - against the wishes of his parents no less - as there is something obscene about it. However, signs are important to any prayer vigil/protest and Jim Pouillon was killed holding one of a healthy unborn baby with the word Life emblazoned across it. If we are afraid to post even signs such as that, then it won't be long before we completely retreat from public view due to the fear of political violence.

One story stated the sign was double-sided. The one side showed the healthy baby with "life" and the other side an aborted child with "abortion." Not that that makes any difference to the evil of murdering him. I myself would not choose to display graphic pictures of aborted children, but I think such images have made a difference to some people. It's a difficult decision, but I would not go that route.

The hearts of the terminally desensitized and those in the throes of guilt are only likely to further calcify after exposure to spiritually violent, desecrated images of God.

Yet those pictures only display the reality of what is done.

Understood, but it doesn't make that reality any more intelligible, or approachable to most.

Going back to the main topic, I think it is very likely that this teenager is a young ruffian in the making, but considering that you yourself have written how political awareness to the culture wars doesn't usually begin until college age for liberals, I think it is more likely he is simply a callous thug, motivated by what he perceived as the fringe status of Pouillon, (and I will assert that a PETA protester using the exact same tactics would be viewed the same way) and not by any pro-choice sympathies.

I think it's surprising that you think he would have perceived a PETA protester as having an equally fringe societal status. And I can't recall anywhere that I have said that a young person from a randomly selected home in the U.S., including a home with apolitical or liberal parents, going all his life to public school, would somehow be unaware of the culture wars, including the abortion issue! I have to believe that this is a misunderstanding of something I have said elsewhere.

What you've written before is along the lines of how college is a time for doubt that can turn conservative Christian minds. So I read it to suggest that college is when all students are exposed to liberal ideas in a strong way. You are right I shouldn't have used the word "awareness", but in some ways college is a chance to puzzle out certain political questions on their own, so there is a type of openness that wasn't there before. It is also a more politically active place generally speaking, which is why so many universities are the spark of liberalizing social reforms and consequent government crackdowns.

So do you think a PETA activist who spends year after year going to schools, car dealerships, and even churches to be a witness for their cause, when it involves signs showing mutilated corpses, would not be viewed as someone on the fringe of society?

So I read it to suggest that college is when all students are exposed to liberal ideas in a strong way.

Definitely a much stronger statement than anything I would make. My perception is that public schools are places where students often are exposed to liberal ideas in a strong way. It is probably even more pushy in college, though I suppose that would depend on the high school and the college. But of course conservative Christian parents may have "gotten around" this by, for example, sending their kids to Christian school, home schooling them, etc., while still planning to send them to a secular college.

I don't think a PETA activist who did that would be viewed as being _as much_ on the fringe of society as Pouillon on the pro-life side. Anecdotal point: I've known of kids who become vegetarians and/or vegans in public school through some sort of school influence, either from peers or teachers. This is evidence that the perspective of such an activist (the PETA activist) is already represented as a kind of replacement religion doing the rounds in the public schools. I've never, ever heard of a young person from a pro-choice family becoming similarly passionate about the pro-life cause through his public school influences.

I think it is more likely he is simply a callous thug, motivated by what he perceived as the fringe status of Pouillon,


Now, how do you think the callous youth in question could conclude that James Pouillon, a fellow human being whom he walked by several times a week, an elderly man who needed an oxygen tank and wheel-chair, could be worthy of contempt and physical abuse? What are the origins for such a view?

One need not read the likes of Peter Singer, nor be fluent in the high-brow misanthropy masquerading as "compassion", to absorb the lessons. It is in the very air that Curtis Wisterman breathes.

What are the origins for such a view?

Maybe his heart was terminally desensitized after exposure to spiritually violent, desecrated images of God. Maybe when teenage boys experience stranger anxiety they lash out.

You mean like in the video games he plays and movies he watches?

The NY Times offers an even-handed account of pro-life activism;

Action means many things to abortion opponents. Lobbyists and fund-raisers fight for the cause in marble hallways; volunteers at crisis pregnancy centers try to dissuade the pregnant on cozy sofas. Then there are the protesters like James Pouillon, who was shot dead here last month while holding an anti-abortion sign outside a high school. A martyr to some, an irritant to others, Mr. Pouillon in death has become a blessing of sorts for the loosely acquainted activists who knew him as a friend: proof that abortion doctors are not the only ones under duress, proof that protests matter, and a spark for more action...

Together, these street activists make up an assertive minority of a few thousand people within the larger anti-abortion movement. Neither the best financed nor largest element in the mix, they are nonetheless the only face of anti-abortion that many Americans see.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/10/us/10abortion.html?sq=abortion foes tell of journey to the streets&st

HT Jill Stanek

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