The attack on Planned Parenthood was an act of terrorism by a coward who didn’t have the confidence or integrity to use speech.
It’s bleak out there for the right-wing in America. The Paris climate conference is yielding scathing testimonies on our future of a scorched Earth. What may be the largest cover-up over the police shooting of a black teenager has recently come to light. Students are questioning the names of college buildings, and five demonstrators were shot at the #BlackLivesMatter protest, possibly with police complicity.
Then came a gruesome attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic, the sixth in four months. On November 27, three individuals, including a policeman, were shot and killed at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and nine others were injured. The prime suspect, 57-year-old white man called Robert Dear, represents a new white poster boy for violent and scary behavior. This is particularly awkward for the right for two reasons. First, the Republicans have been whipping up anti-refugee hysteria by stoking fears of terrorism. And second, Dear’s motivation appears to be consistent with lies peddled by the right about Planned Parenthood.
Fortunately, the right hasn’t had to deal with a Colorado Springs incident where three people were murdered with a gun since, let’s see, a month ago. Lax gun laws contributed to the carnage, yet the mayor did not want to tighten “open carry” laws.
The Standard for White Christian vs Brown Muslim Terrorism
This latest Colorado Springs incident has many antecedents. Abortion clinics and providers have been targeted resulting in eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings and 186 arsons since 1977.
One would imagine that Dear’s act would be an obvious case of terrorism: The use of violence or threat of violence to achieve a political or ideological goal. Yet the media and the right-wing mostly suffer from “White Terrorism Falsehoods (puzzlement or sadness response).” Sadly, WTF (posr) is not yet in the DSM, because it’s well-worth us paying $750 a pill to cure it.
More seriously, we must have a broader, “pro-life” discussion that uses consistent language and standards versus blatant fear-mongering. Terrorism has been the top US priority in the new millennium, with our “Global War on Terrorism” and its aftermath ringing up a $6 trillion price tag to supposedly save many American lives. Yet that wasn’t the case: Millions have died globally, the world has become more dangerous, our privacy and civil rights have been eroded, and our ability to fund basic services here and abroad greatly diminished. Yet it has distracted us from focusing on an equal, if not more important priority of right-wing terrorism at home.
The farcical media and political response is illustrative. They’ve twisted themselves in knots in their attempts to avoid classifying the act as terrorism, blatantly demonstrating their double-standard for using the term. A public killing in the West by a Muslim man or men is immediately called terrorism. Media outlets do not, en masse, cast doubt on the motives of the shooting by multiple Muslim men. So why wouldn’t the “public violence” bar be high enough for a white man (particularly when right-wingers kill at least twice as many Muslim extremists)?
Even worse, this was the targeting of a nonprofit institution subject to increased violence as its activities have been intensely (and often inaccurately) debated. Can we imagine any case in which a Muslim man would target a highly politicized institution, killing several individuals, and it would not be deemed terrorism? Finally, explicitly stating one’s motive is rarely, if ever, necessary to describe an attack by a Muslim(s) as “terrorism.” Yet saying “no more baby parts” in this case is apparently not sufficient. Can one imagine a deeply Muslim guy shooting several policemen and others at a prominent US synagogue saying, “No more Jews” and the media refusing to call it terrorism?
Let’s focus specifically on the target of this violence. Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides a spectrum of women’s health needs including abortion (which is not federally funded), is the most politicized institution in America. The Republicans were willing to threaten a government shutdown over federal funding for Planned Parenthood, despite the last one costing $24 billion. A number of states have tried to cut off funding for the organization.
Carly Fiorina lied about a supposedly damning Planned Parenthood video in the September Republican debate. Subsequently, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards was called to testify before Congress, where she was interrupted 44 times by Republicans and berated by Representative Jason Chaffetz over a Planned Parenthood corporate report chart that didn’t exist. Various investigations have not found any illegal activity, despite US presidential candidates’ repeated and defamatory suggestions to the contrary. Fortunately, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders correctly and importantly tied the apparent motives of the attack to Republican rhetoric the next day; Petula Dvorak and others have also done so.
The Response of the Media and the Right
Broadly speaking, the right has trotted out the explanation they use when white men commit terrorist acts against the minorities or groups they revile daily. The shooter is “deranged” and “mentally ill” (though the threat of removing guns conversely is used to rile up their base.) From the left to the right, the media echoes that we don’t know the gunman’s motive. One almost expects the mainstream media to speculate that he said, “No more baby stroller parts,” accidentally ending up at Planned Parenthood instead of Babies “R” Us.
To date, most politicians and mainstream media have avoided discussing the fact that 99% of mass shooters in America are men—many with issues about their masculinity. Even though journalist Amanda Marcotte tweeted: “As soon as I heard about the shooting, I said, ‘Middle-aged man, romantic failure.’ Why I was able to predict it.”
The media also used the softer words for white “gunmen.” A New York Times breaking news alert on December 1 titled their article, “The suspect in the Colorado rampage was a recluse who longed for women, and mixed religion with rage.” Ironically, the article itself discusses him raping a woman who wasn’t interested in him, violently abusing his wife on multiple occasions, buying a gun, gambling, expressing extreme anger and calling those who attacked abortion providers “heroes,” and saying they are “doing God’s work.”
Presidential Candidates’ Responses
The security-promoting Republican presidential candidates now have little to say on the relevance of terrorism or guns. This is despite one study that showed Americans are seven times more likely to be killed by a right-wing terrorist than a Muslim extremist, and another that found similar countries have 5% as many homicides using guns as the U.S. America has averaged one mass shooting a day in 2015. In 1996, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said, “We do not want the American disease imported into Australia,” and several months later he moved to implement measures for gun control.
Yet Republican contenders in American have gone from excoriating Planned Parenthood to more of the same and WTF (posr).
In the September debate, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina talked about having seen the harvesting of fetal tissue while “a fully formed fetus [lies] on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking.” While this was shown to be a total lie, the Dear’s motive is entirely consistent with such a myth. Now, Fiorina calls the Planned Parenthood attack “a tragedy, especially on a holiday weekend” by someone who was “deranged” and talked about how the “left-wing” should not be “demonizing the messenger.” As a messenger delivering lies to 23 million Americans about a clinic that has been the victim of numerous terrorist attacks, Fiorina deserves to be demonized.
She is among most Republicans candidates who choose to ignore an important reality: Fetal tissue, used for stem cell research, is valuable to doctors and survivors alike for its promise of curing Alzheimer’s, diabetes and other diseases. In fact, Former First Lady Nancy Reagan championed President Barack Obama’s lifting of restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump said “the videos they’ve seen with some of these people from Planned Parenthood, talking about [harvesting fetal tissue] like you’re selling parts to a car.” While he said some tapes aren’t pertinent, he repeated that there are “many [such] tapes” without providing any references. (For the Trump campaign whose slogan may as well be, “Make America Hate Again” truth is no barrier—e.g., his reversed white-on-white crime statistics or fake Muslim 9/11 celebrations.)
Ted Cruz called Planned Parenthood a “criminal enterprise” responsible for “multiple felonies” during a September Republican debate (a lie that might yet prove an accurate descriptor for his wife’s former employer, Goldman Sachs, who has settled for hundreds of millions, or Exxon Mobil). He appeared to back plans to shut down the government over funding of Planned Parenthood, amping up the rhetoric against it. Yet he now calls the shooting “unacceptable, horrific, and wrong” with a toll including the “one officer who lost his life [as] particularly tragic,” apparently discounting the Hawaiian mother or African American Iraq War veteran who were also killed.
Ben Carson called it a “hate crime” and pushed for a “rational discussion” instead of wanting to “destroy those with whom we disagree.” This represents a new, softer stance for the neurosurgeon who now likes Syrian refugees who stay in the Middle East.
The Democrats have done better. Bernie Sanders came out first on November 28 in a statement about the “the vicious and unsubstantiated statements” which included, “I strongly support Planned Parenthood and the work it is doing and hope people realize that bitter rhetoric can have unintended consequences.” Hillary Clinton slammed Republicans from blocking a vote on barring those on the no-fly list to buy guns, and she called for background checks. She also voiced support for Planned Parenthood, two days after Sanders’ statement. Her contribution was positive albeit late, yet they were given higher placement and more space by CNN. We don’t know what our fellow citizens make of it as CNN has cut off comments, since commenters cited parent company Time Warner’s connection to Clinton as potentially linked to debate coverage strongly biased in her favor. Martin O’Malley called the act “domestic terrorism” and highlighted other American gun massacres and the need for action.
Yet still not enough political and media leaders are calling it what it was: Terrorism by a coward who didn’t have the confidence or integrity to use speech. An act of barbarity by a person who appears to believe extreme rhetoric and widely propagated lies of the right. A man who had issues with his masculinity and committed domestic abuse and other violent crimes. Someone who is a caricature of the greatest terrorist threat to America: white, Christian, right-wing men who try to compensate for their weak grasp on politics and personal insecurity by brutally killing their fellow citizens.
This act should also open a larger discussion: on what we spend fighting terrorism at home vs abroad and why; on whether we spend on health, jobs, and education vs weapons; on access to guns in a culture that glorifies them and how to regulate and end these copycat sprees. A conversation on white men who are committing rampant violence in crimes of terrorism and hate, their twisted psychology and radical ideologies, and how to stop them.
In the meantime, undoubtedly to the chagrin of our backward right, Oregon and California are making birth control available over the counter.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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