Over the holiday weekend, Robert Lewis Dear, an unkempt 57-year-old man with an apparent history of trouble with the law over cruelty to animals and humans alike, opened fire on civilians and cops first outside and then from inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic. He killed three people — including a police officer, a 36-year-old mother, and a 29-year-old father and Iraq War veteran — and wounded nine others before surrendering to police.
As is so often the case in these circumstances, Dear is described by neighbors as an odd loner, who avoided eye contact and spoke unintelligibly. In South Carolina, his previous residence, he had been arrested after hiding in the bushes and peeping into his neighbor’s house. He shot a neighbor’s dog with a pellet gun and threatened him with bodily harm. In Colorado, he lived off the grid in a trailer, on a five-acre plot of land he apparently purchased for $6,000 in 2014. This followed a series of cabins and trailers — without electricity or running water — that he stayed in after his divorce in 2000.
Dear has no history of affiliation with the Republican Party or pro-life groups or politicians. He was not affiliated with any party and reportedly had limited interactions about politics with those who knew him. But he proffered anti-Obama literature to a neighbor, had a history of anti-government comments, and The New York Times connects him with online postings seeking partners for BDSM sex and others on Cannabis.com calling it the “End Times” due to AIDS and hurricanes.
More important for the media’s context for this story, according to anonymous law enforcement sources speaking with The New York Times, Dear “said ‘no more baby parts’ in a rambling interview with the authorities. The official said that Mr. Dear ‘said a lot of things’ during his interview, making it difficult for the authorities to pinpoint a specific motivation.”
For their part, Colorado authorities have been markedly hesitant to declare a clear motive for Dear’s attacks.
But this has not stopped Planned Parenthood and its allies in the media and politics from running with their depiction of Robert Lewis Dear as a stand-in for all Americans who oppose abortion on demand:
Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, went beyond an inference, saying the shooter “was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion.” [Attorney General Loretta] Lynch, who called the “unconscionable attack” a “crime against women receiving health care services,” pledged the full resources of her office for the investigation.
This remark from Cowart is only the beginning of what will be a significant public relations push from Planned Parenthood in the days ahead to depict this off-the-grid loner with a history of bizarre and violent behavior as your typical pro-lifer, motivated to murderous violence by political and rhetorical attacks on Planned Parenthood. “I hope people realize that bitter rhetoric can have unintended consequences,” Bernie Sanders tweeted.
This is not a new tactic on the left, the last major example being the “national conversation” we had on extremist political rhetoric after the Tucson shootings, which were obviously motivated by bitter right-wing rhetoric until the perpetrator was revealed to be a schizoid nutcase. Interestingly enough, I don’t recall having that same “national conversation” when Floyd Corkins walked into the Family Research Council and opened fire, explicitly citing the Southern Poverty Law Center as the source of his anger.
Thanks to overheated screeds spewing from the mouths of the GOP, and in Congress, innocent people have died in CO, including a policeman.
— Bette Midler (@BetteMidler) November 28, 2015
The media elite and Planned Parenthood’s many other allies are welcome to try this approach. But it is not going to work, and there are a few obvious reasons why it won’t.
First, because pro-lifers are so plentiful in America, no one accepts that an obvious nut like Dear is an accurate representation of how they behave. Only Planned Parenthood and its true believers think like this, and it’s one of the reasons their public relations efforts have in recent years performed so poorly. The fact that the officer killed, Garrett Swasey, was a pro-life Christian pastor who died attempting to defend people he disagreed with on the issue of abortion also complicates matters (listen to his last sermon here). Predictions by Planned Parenthood about the levels of violence among pro-life Americans are also unconvincing, because, well:
Second, much like the hard case to be made against the National Rifle Association (still more popular than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) in the wake of a shooting like this, no one believes that the NRA is in favor of mass shootings any more than they believe that the National Right to Life Committee is in favor of attacking abortion clinics. These organizations and the politicians who agree with them condemn such attacks, and loudly. They hate crazy people who hurt their political cause more than anyone else. For those who have been talking about moderate Muslims until they turn blue in the face, depicting the pro-life community as one giant radicalized group of Robert Lewis Dears is absurd. The pro-lifers praying and swaying and holding their placards are as responsible for this shooting as the Beatles were for Charles Manson’s violence, and most people know it.
And third — and this is where things get Alanis Morrissette chaotic Paladin-level ironic — this frame will not work because the media was so successful at squashing the very story they now cite as the source of Dear’s rage: the series of undercover videos, which have depicted behind-the-scenes activities and conversations at Planned Parenthood facilities across the country and with their top ranking officials, showing them engaging in legally questionable and ethically vile behavior, even to the point of negotiating the sale of baby parts for profit.
It is a very hard case to make that pro-lifers telling the truth about Planned Parenthood, and politicians demanding they be called to account for that truth, are acts that encourage domestic terrorism. It is harder still to make that case when you have worked tirelessly over the course of months to squelch all reporting about this story that did not declare it debunked.
So prepare to read about how Dear is representative of the radical ideology espoused and shared by most pro-life Christians, the Center for Medical Progress, and the Little Sisters of the Poor. And tomorrow Planned Parenthood will go back to its work: the casual daily murder of innocent human life, justified by an anti-scientific ideology that dehumanizes its victims, profiting from the taxpayers and the products of this destruction in turn, over and over and over again.
“We can’t let it become normal,” President Obama said the other day. I agree. But it already is, because he and others want it to be.