ALABAMA ABORTIONS AND KNIGHTS TEMPLAR: THE MAKING OF NEW HERETICS
How is the Alabama abortion ban like the Knights Templar?
This is not a riddle, so even if you guess right you will not be granted my ring of invisibility, which is currently on loan to patients trying to dodge abusive Planned Parenthood protesters anyway.
But let’s explore this question for a minute, I promise it’s coming to a non-arbitrary conclusion. In both cases, one contemporary and one historical, we see what happens when authoritarian extremists inevitably become more extreme.
And we also see what happens to some onetime authoritarian insiders: They become outsiders pretty quickly.
The Knights Templar were medieval crusaders, “Christian warriors devoted to chastity, poverty and obedience,” as TIME calls them.
That’s a big step down from earth, fire, wind, water, and heart, but I guess you take what you can get.
And just like the Planeteers eventually faced cancellation, in 1307 France’s King Philip IV arrested the Knights Templar as heretics, burning or imprisoning most of them. That part probably didn’t happen to the Planeteers, so I guess history doesn’t always repeat itself.
The authorities insisted the knights had fallen into worshiping an idol they called Baphomet. Which according to journalist Frank Sanello was not yet a Sabbatic goat in those days but allegedly “a skull, or a reliquary, a cat, a painting, or the head of a man,”
Accounts varied, you see. Which is sort of like saying Jesus was a 1st century rabbi or maybe he was a novelty license plate from the ’70s, those are the degrees of magnitude in error we’re dealing with there.
But I guess ultimately it doesn’t matter, because odds are there was no Baphomet and the Templars were just the victims of a fake religious moral panic and political expediency. Stick a pin in that for when we return to Alabama abortions.
“The secret agents of the French king circulated various dark rumors and odious reports concerning the Templars,” to provide cover for the eventual plan to round them up, Charles G. Addison explained in an 1842 Templar history.
Sort of like how all year long, right-wing Twitter has proliferated the stupidest bullshit ideas about abortion access. Like “They’re killing already born kids” and ““Abortion is the new Auschwitz” and the old favorite, “Satanists are eating fetuses.”
And like clockwork, a few months later states across America are burning Templars. Or that is to say, passing a total Alabama abortion ban, threatening to jail doctors and patients alike, and even pushing the death penalty for people who get abortions.
It’s going to get weirder too. Ohio lawmaker John Becker–whose name helpfully already rhymes with “pecker” to make things easier on the protesters chanting outside his office–wants to hobble some kinds of contraception, which he oddly believes are the same as an abortion.
Becker also wants to make it harder to treat ectopic pregnancies, though these can kill the patient if left unaddressed.
Surgeon Eugene Gu vainly struggled to explain on Twitter that Becker’s bill is “beyond crazy” and that if holding up treatment “causes severe bleeding the woman needs emergency surgery to save her life.”
But something tells me that the topic of women bleeding causes Freudian discomfort for the likes of John Becker, so I doubt he paid attention.
“With Trump sort of at the head of this movement, there’s just this level of cruelty and this sort of terrifying ramp-up of the rhetoric,” the New York Times’ Lauren Kelley observes. “Every time you think it can’t get more extreme, it does.”
And of course it does, because that’s what authoritarianism is all about. When extremists get power, they don’t suddenly decide to become more diverse and understanding. They draw the noose tighter.
“As people gain confidence, they usually become more extreme in their beliefs, because a significant moderating factor—their own uncertainty —has been eliminated,” Harvard’s Cass Sunstein notes. “The agreement of others tends to increase extremism.”
Take the Templars; in their day they were the vanguard of draconian religious aggression. I mean “vanguard” literally in this case, they actually stood in the front of an army with swords and everything.
But soon the institutions they represented became too extreme even to brook them, and they ended up purged. As the circle gets smaller, anyone may end up outside of it. One day you’re a pro-life activist, then suddenly you need treatment for ectopic pregnancy and now you’re the heretic.
We can see it happening already. Earlier this week, Tomi Lahren, the human equivalent of an Alexa programmed to respond with only alt-right talking points, complained on Twitter that “this Alabama abortion ban is too restrictive.”
Pat Robertson, our national stand-in for every older gentleman at the Denny’s who tells the woman to smile more, also said this week “I think Alabama has gone too far.”
Right-wing contrarian John V. Last–whose own real name already marginalizes him, so I don’t actually have anything to add–complained, “This Alabama abortion law is the most damaging development to the pro-life movement in decades.” And that includes Ben Shapiro’s successful birth, so fucking yikes.
None of these parties strike me as rigorous students of history. But if they were, they might look from their Alabama abortion ban comments to the example of the Templars.
Today’s vanguard very often becomes tomorrow’s heretic. And the fires burn you just as quickly as they did us first.