[Cross-posted at Hatewatch.]
The Republican presidential candidates who spent much of the past four months roundly demonizing Planned Parenthood were scrambling over the weekend and beyond, busily trying to distance themselves and their rhetoric from last week's bloody shooting rampage of a North Carolina transplant in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Friday.
Carly Fiorina – whose attacks on Planned Parenthood in the wake of the release of a series of deceptively edited smear videos purporting to show officials from the organization callously selling “aborted baby parts” were credited with fueling her rise as a candidate among a crowded GOP field – called any linkage of her rhetoric to the shooting just “typical left-wing tactics.”
“This is so typical of the left to immediately begin demonizing a messenger because they don’t agree with the message,” Fiorina told Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Sunday.
Reportedly, the shooter, Robert L. Dear, a 57-year-old transplant from Asheville, N.C., said to authorities in interviews after he was captured that the attack was about “no more baby parts,” along with oblique references to President Obama.
Sen. Ted Cruz, who also devoted a lot of campaign airtime to attacking Planned Parenthood – at one point telling a reporter that “I have encouraged every American to watch these videos” – complained to reporters on Sunday that "the media promptly wants to blame him on the pro-life movement when at this point there’s very little evidence to indicate that."
Reminded about Dear’s reported “baby parts” comment, Cruz retorted: "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 on the rhetoric on the left. This is a murderer.”
He added: “We know that he was a man registered to vote as a woman.” [In reality, this claim – based on a clerical error made by county officials in Colorado – was completely untrue, though it was bandied about widely by right-wing blogs.]
Fiorina and Cruz led the charge against Planned Parenthood by Republican candidates this summer, based on the smear videos, that resulted in virtually every candidate calling for abolishing federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Cruz, in fact, promised to introduce legislation in the Senate to do just that.
At the Sept. 16 GOP presidential debate, Fiorina attacked the organization viciously:
As regards Planned Parenthood, anyone who has watched this videotape, I dare Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama to watch these tapes. Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain. This is about the character of our nation, and if we will not stand up in and force President Obama to veto this bill, shame on us.
In reality, no such video existed among those released as part of the smear campaign, and Fiorina was never able to produce evidence that it did. Her defenders later released a video purporting to show a fetus being treated somewhat as she described, but it shortly emerged that the video was of a miscarriage, at a hospital with no affiliation with Planned Parenthood.
Ted Cruz, for his part, went on Fox News and explained to Sean Hannity why, as he had previously told a debate audience, Planned Parenthood was a “criminal enterprise” and that its officials deserved prosecution:
Now, what should we be doing? Number one, in the course of these videos, it appears both of these officials are admitting to multiple felonies, both federal felonies and state and local felonies. If the Department of Justice wasn't a partisan arm of the DNC, it should open an investigation, prosecute these individuals and Planned Parenthood as an entity.
Thankfully, there are state and local attorneys general and DAs that are opening investigations. We need to prosecute Planned Parenthood, and also we need to cut off every penny of taxpayer funding. I'm leading the fight in the Senate to do exactly that and insure that we are not funding people who are buying and selling body parts of unborn children in violation of federal criminal law!
Cruz and Fiorina were hardly alone. Most of their fellow candidates joined the dogpile:
- Ben Carson told an Iowa radio host that “the whole purpose” of Planned Parenthood is to “eliminate black people.”
- Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida told a TV interviewer that Planned Parenthood was in the business of “pushing people into abortions”: “If you go to one of these centers young women are provided very few options. In many places they’re not told anything about, for example, adoption services that might be available to them. In essence, you come in, and it’s already predetermined. This is the direction –– this is what this place does. It provides abortions, and we are going to channel you in that direction. And I just think you’ve created an industry now –– the situation where very much you’ve created an incentive not just for people to look forward to having more abortions, but being able to sell that fetal tissue for purposes of making profit off of it, as you’ve seen with some of these Planned Parenthood affiliates.” [This claim, like many others levied against the women’s health-care provider, is utterly false, a product of the claims of an extremist fringe group.]
- Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky issued a statement: “I am more appalled than ever by Planned Parenthood's complete disregard for the sanctity of human life. The recent revelation that this taxpayer-funded organization is selling body parts of the unborn further proves that this agency deserves our scorn not our tax dollars.” He also told an interviewer: “I don’t know how they live with themselves.”
- Donald Trump told interviewer Hugh Hewitt that he would be all for Cruz’s proposal to shut down the federal government in order to force President Obama to sign their plan to defund Planned Parenthood: “If the Republicans stuck together you could have done it with Obamacare also, but the Republicans decided not to stick together and they left a few people out there like Ted Cruz. If they had stuck together they would have won that battle. I think you have to in this case [on Planned Parenthood] also, yes.”
The candidates having already set the bar for acceptable mainstream attacks on Planned Parenthood, the already-extreme rhetoric turned even more so in the hands of lesser politicians, right-wing pundits, and far-right evangelical Christians. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Arizona, warned that if Planned Parenthood was not defunded, America itself would collapse, since Americans had become so “desensitized” to the “horror” of the “abortion industry,” to “a degree that I think threatens the survival or the necessity of the survival of America.
Evangelist/talk show host Gordon Klingenschmitt was even more extreme in his attack on Planned Parenthood:
I don’t believe these people for a moment, do you? In fact, we can discern upon them the spirit of lying, the spirit of death, the spirit of murder, the spirit of greed. I mean, whenever I look at a picture of those executives, if you look in the spirit, at the demons inside of them, you can see the blood dripping from their fangs. These people are just evil.
Online evangelist Joshua Feuerstein – who most recently gained notoriety in leading the right-wing uproar over Starbucks’ new Christmas-free holiday cups – chimed in on a video he originally posted July 29 (but which he recently removed from his Facebook and YouTube pages):
Planned Parenthood has hunted down millions and millions of little innocent babies, stuck a knife into the uterus, cut them, pulled them out, crushed their skull with forceps, ripped their body apart, sold their tissue, and threw them bleeding into a trash bin.
I say, tonight, we punish Planned Parenthood. I think it’s time that abortion doctors should have to run and hide and be afraid for their life.
The ultimate escalation of that rhetoric into action, apparently, came in Colorado Springs, along with the spate of four arsons over a 74-day span at Planned Parenthood clinics scattered around the nation.
And despite the denials of the candidates regarding the effects of their extreme rhetoric, extremists on the right couldn’t withhold their expressions of glee on social media even after Dear murdered three people and wounded nine others.
“No sympathy for any pregnant female who was injured in the Planned Parenthood shooting that was there to get an abortion. She deserved it,” tweeted one “pro-life” advocate.
“Planned Parenthood shooter has done more in one day to save black babies then #Black Lives Matter has done in last several months,” tweeted another.
The militant anti-abortion group Army of God issued a statement:
These murderous pigs at Planned Parenthood are babykillers and they reap what they sow. In this case, Planned Parenthood selling of aborted baby parts came back to bite them.
The New York Times on Tuesday published a story quoting anonymous sources who told their reporter that Dear had considered groups like Army of God to be “heroes.”
And at Erick Erickson's the ostensibly mainstream conservative blog, the sometime CNN and Fox pundit wrote: “Given the public light shed on the atrocities committed by Planned Parenthood … it really should be surprising that Americans … have not taken the law into their own hands.”
In other words, Robert Dear’s act of domestic terrorism did not slow down the attacks on Planned Parenthood. If anything, it seems to have taken them to a new level of viciousness.