On Nov. 27, Robert Lewis Dear, opened fire at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs. During a five-hour standoff, he killed one police officer and two civilians: Garrett Swasey, Ke’Arre Stewart, and Jennifer Markovsky. Nine others, including four officers, were hurt. The shooting began before noon outside the facility, which Dear then entered. The standoff ended when he surrendered to police after several exchanges of gunfire. No Planned Parenthood staff or clients were injured during the incident, but immediately the press and Planned Parenthood used the shooting to slam the pro-life movement.
Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Rocky Mountains released a statement claiming eyewitness reports said the attacker “was motivated by opposition to safe and legal abortion” even before police apprehended Dear or released any details of the event. Early media reports are notoriously unreliable.
Both Planned Parenthood and liberal pundits suggested that videos by the Center for Medical Progress revealing the abortion giant’s harvesting and selling fetal tissue created a climate of hate against the organization which would inevitably lead to violence. The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti said “we can all tell the truth about this attack; we don’t need a police press conference to confirm the shooter’s motive.” Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, called on politicians and activists to cease criticism of Planned Parenthood.
An unnamed police officer told reporters that when Dear was arrested he cried out “no more body parts” — likely a reference to CMP’s videos.
Linking an individual action to the larger movement, however, is more difficult.
Planned Parenthood tweeted that the pro-life movement’s “hateful rhetoric” and “smear campaigns” meant that anti-abortion violence would be inevitable. David French of National Review retorted that “if angry political rhetoric bred violence, America would look something like Syria,” considering how caustic political exchanges have become.
Despite early media speculation, Dear is not associated with any pro-life organization or even a particular church.
Pro-life groups condemned the violence. Troy Newman of Operation Rescue said his organization “unequivocally deplores and denounces all violence at abortion clinics and has a long history of working through peaceful channels to advocate on behalf of women and their babies.” Rev. Patrick J. Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition said in a statement, “the pro-life movement is praying for the safety of all involved and as a movement we have always unequivocally condemned all forms of violence at abortion clinics. We must continually as a nation stand against violence on all levels.”
Bryan Kemper, youth outreach director for Priests for Life and founder of Stand True, said, “we are against all violence against our fellow human persons. From the abortionist, the workers, the patients, the children scheduled to die or anyone at that Planned Parenthood (facility), all of their lives are precious and worth saving. All of them are loved by God and deserve our prayers. I am sickened by the violence there today just as I am sickened by the violence there every day.”
Tony Perkins of the Family Reseach Council said in a statement, “only through peaceful means — not violence — can we truly become a nation that once again values all human life, born and unborn.”
Dear was charged with three counts of first-degree murder and faced 176 additional charges. During Dec. 9 proceedings in El Paso County court, he yelled out “I am guilty there will be no trial. I am a warrior for the babies.” He was also reported to be rocking back-and-forth during proceedings.
Media reports later described Dear, a 57-year-old native of North Carolina, as reclusive and paranoid, who had previous run-ins with the law. The New York Daily News reported that an online dating profile that appears to have been posted by Dear in the early 2000s has him asking for “discreet” sadomasochistic sex, as well as pot-smoking companions. Other posts on Cannabis.com by someone with a username associated with Dear, included what the Daily News described as “paranoid Biblical rants.” He had been previously charged in relation with animal cruelty and peeping-tom incidents, and had numerous traffic violations. ABC reported he lived alone in the woods of North Carolina without running water or electricity and neighbours said he rambled when they spoke with him although they did not mention that he ever talked about abortion or religion. He has more recently been living alone in the Colorado mountains.