Officially, the motive of alleged Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Lewis Dear remains unclear.
But abortion rights advocates and opponents have quickly formed vastly different theories based on their own hand-picked media reports. On one side, Dear is basically what you’d imagine an abortion clinic attacker to be — an antiabortion activist. On the other, as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) put it Sunday, Dear might be a "transgendered leftist activist."
Cruz's campaign later said he was not making this allegation himself, but simply pointing out that there are conflicting reports — including some that Dear was registered to vote as a woman. (More on that later.)
The conventional notion that Dear, 57, must have been driven by hard-core opposition to abortion was reinforced over the weekend by an NBC News story. Citing two unnamed law enforcement officials, NBC reported that Dear said “no more baby parts” when he was apprehended Friday after allegedly killing three people and wounding nine others at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs. The Washington Post confirmed this, citing an unnamed law enforcement official.
The “baby parts” line would appear to be a reference to recent controversy over Planned Parenthood’s handling of fetal tissue. In July, the Center for Medical Progress released a video showing Planned Parenthood’s senior director of medical research discussing the preservation of fetal hearts, lungs and livers for use in research; the center accused Planned Parenthood of profiting from organ sales.
The video was filmed surreptitiously by two antiabortion activists posing as biotechnology workers, and some additional footage released by the Center for Medical Progress proved to be misleading. For example: One graphic image turned out to be of a stillborn baby, not an aborted fetus, and didn’t come from a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Nevertheless, the video sting outraged many abortion opponents and prompted a congressional hearing. Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards explained that a small number of affiliated clinics do supply aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers with the consent of expectant women and receive payments of $45 to $60 per specimen to “recover only their costs, as allowed under the federal law and our guidance.” Then last month, Planned Parenthood said it would stop accepting reimbursement for the cost of supplying fetal tissue.
Planned Parenthood Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens suggested Sunday that sharply worded remarks by Republican presidential candidates during the video saga contributed to last week’s shooting. “One of the lessons of this awful tragedy is that words matter, and hateful rhetoric fuels violence,” Laguens said in a statement.
But some abortion opponents have an alternative explanation, as articulated by Cruz, who was among the GOP White House contenders called out by Laguens.
“The media promptly wants to blame him on the pro-life movement when, at this point, there’s very little evidence to indicate that,” Cruz said Sunday at a campaign stop in Newton, Iowa. He added that “it’s also been reported that he was registered as an independent and a woman and a transgendered leftist activist. If that’s what he is, I don’t think it’s fair to blame … the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.”
The idea that Dear is a trans woman — and therefore more closely aligned with liberals than conservatives — appears to have originated with the Gateway Pundit, a conservative blog that reported that Dear’s Colorado voter registration record lists his gender as female and his political party as unaffiliated. In addition, the leader of Colorado Springs Respect Life, which meets regularly for Mass outside the clinic, told the Colorado Springs Gazette that no one in his group knows Dear.
Overmanwarrior, another conservative blog, summarized the reports thusly: “This is just further proof that liberals make most of the problems in our society. They feed anger toward Planned Parenthood with immoral justifications, then they create a loose society full of perverts, peeping toms, and losers who are men who think they are women and women who want to be men."
And many conservatives on Twitter argue that the media has been much too quick to jump to the most obvious motive for the shooting. Some even questioned whether Planned Parenthood was specifically targeted.
The difference between this and many other recent mass shootings is that the alleged shooter is still alive; Dear's first court appearance is Monday. We’re sure to learn more about him in the coming days — including whether the gender designation on his voter registration is genuine or merely a clerical error, and perhaps what his thoughts are on abortion rights.
Whatever the case, people on each side of the abortion debate seem determined not only to disown Dear but also to attach him to the other — no matter how limited the evidence right now.