Following the Planned Parenthood attacks on November 27 that left three dead and at least 11 wounded, local police identified the perpetrator as 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear Jr. The shooting took place at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, raising the possibility that it may have been a planned and targeted attack with anti-abortion motives, confirmed by the fact that Dear said “no more baby parts” in an interview with investigators after the shooting. Despite this, it was only a matter of time before the tragedy entered the political stage and was exploited to further an agenda.
The comment “no more baby parts” refers to a provocative Planned Parenthood video which was leaked months ago, alleging the sale of fetal tissue material. Since the release of the leaked video, it has been found that this heavily edited video explains that the reference taken in context was actually in regards to donating fetal tissue from abortions for scientific research in an effort to “serve their patients.” Despite this, the idea of making money worried individuals as there may have been an underlying monetary motivation behind the selling of fetal tissue to researchers; however, as it turns out, the cost of $30-100 is about the standard price scientific researchers pay for tissue material of this sort, a price that barely breaks even with the cost of providing the tissue samples, never mind actually turning a profit.
The last thing the GOP wants is to have people think that the belief of anti-abortion rhetoric and these doctored videos is what inspired and motivated the terrorist act. If anything, they are going to want to distance themselves from these allegations. The first tactic employed was claiming that the shooting began outside Chase Bank and that the shooter just happened to take cover in the Planned Parenthood clinic after authorities showed up, then leading to Fox News reporting that this attack was then probably a “bank robbery gone wrong,” despite the fact that the entire incident occurred at the Planned Parenthood clinic, according to local police.
Ted Cruz became the first GOP candidate to speak about the incident, aware of the potential backlash this sort of uncovering may have on people’s perceptions of the anti-abortion movement. In a desperate effort to distance himself and anti-abortion views from the shooting, Cruz decided to instead insinuate that the shooter could be a “transgendered [sic] leftist activist.” This idea comes out of a finding that Dear is registered as a female, according to a voter registration document. This implies one of two plausible situations. Either it is that Dear identifies as a woman or that there was a typo in the voter registration, given that there has been no other evidence speaking to Dear’s gender identity. Regardless, upon learning this, Cruz attributed Dear’s potential identification to “leftist activism,” which is inherently smuggling in the idea that anyone who identifies as trans must necessarily then also not only be a leftist, but must be promoting an agenda of leftist activism simply by existing as a trans individual. A further investigation later revealed that it was indeed a typo.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan later remarked that this tragedy only emphasizes our need to focus on mental health issues in this country, a suggestion that is certainly true, but not in the context of this tragedy necessarily, especially when other motives can easily be identified.
These rhetorical strategies do many important things: First, the claims wrongly associate Dear with the left despite being considered by The New York Times as being “generally conservative,” and also having a history of handing out anti-Obama pamphlets to neighbors. Second, it adds to the long history of transphobic attacks, namely trying to claim that this may somehow explain the violent acts. Third, Ryan’s attribution of Dear’s actions to mental illness attempts to wrongly explain away the compelling drive that led him to commit these acts of violence, despite Dear’s clear motives. Lastly, this seeks to dispel any notion that Christian terrorism exists and that this anti-abortionist view may be one of the major factors that motivated Dear’s actions.
The line of logic used in foreign terrorism rhetoric by the GOP is swiftly ignored when the issue pertains to homegrown, domestic white terrorism. If we are to claim that a belief in Islamic extremism may motivate terrorists, why then are we to dismiss even the possibility that a belief in anti-abortion Christian rhetoric may also contribute to violence in society? If we are genuinely pursuing the truth, we ought to be honest about discussing the motives that inspire violence, even if they may be inconvenient or uncomfortable to confront. Ignoring this form of terrorism furthers the idea that terrorism only exists when done by certain minority groups and not by white Christian Americans, simply because the idea of it makes people uneasy.
These crafty retrospective retelling of motives ignores the fact that right-wing extremists have averaged approximately 337 per year from 2001-2011, according to a study by the Combating Terrorism Center, with the number only increasing in the years after the study was conducted. Furthermore, the FBI has even released an explicit warning to reproductive health care facilities, stating “it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities.”
The same reasons that point to the possibility of danger being associated with incoming refugees, despite a lack of evidence that any actual incidents of refugee terrorism in relation to ISIS, are then disregarded when homegrown terrorists promoting Christian extremism with anti-abortion rhetoric have actually wrecked havoc and introduced terror into our society. This double standard is the epitome of political convenience, crafty rhetoric to imply untrue associations, and a general disregard for the varying manifestations of terrorism in our society.