I heard about the Planned Parenthood shooting while tucked away in the woods of New England, recovering, like many Americans, from the previous day’s Thanksgiving indulgence. I curled up on my parents' couch as the local news re-broadcast chaotic scenes from the tragedy in Colorado Springs, a place across the country where police lights blared and the ground was already covered in snow.
I'd been in the exact same spot a year and a half earlier when I first learned that Elliot Rodger had opened fire on a sorority in California in order to punish women for not sleeping with him. Watching another tragedy unfold on Friday (Nov. 27), again from the comfort of my parent's home, I felt what I had back then: Sadness. Anger. Above all, fear.
This is what terrorism does -- punctures our tenuous illusion of safety, cracks our peace of mind, reminds us that hateful ideology can be lethal, no matter where we live.
We’re told not to politicize tragedies, to allot the proper time to grieve and parse and rationalize before we do things like talk about about mental illness or gun control. But what happened on Friday, when three people were killed and nine others injured at a women's health clinic by a man who allegedly said the words “no more baby parts,” was undeniably political. It was an act that falls into a long history of violence used to intimidate women and rob them of their legal, moral right to control their own bodies.
It was an act of terrorism. And Robert Lewis Dear -- a white man from North Carolina -- is a terrorist.
Some, including current Republican presidential hopefuls, refuse to admit this. Ben Carson has called for both sides of the abortion debate to tone down their rhetoric. Staunch anti-choicer Mike Huckabee actually did call the shooting “domestic terrorism,” but added that this was the case “for those of us in the pro-life movement” — a statement that might be funny were it not so horrifically absurd.
But perhaps the most egregious response belongs to Carly Fiorina, who was quick to dismiss attempts to link the tragedy in Colorado to anti-abortion rhetoric to as “typical left-wing tactics.” The former Hewlett Packard CEO, who spread demonstrably false stories about Planned Parenthood’s supposedly illegal sale of fetal remains, said on “Fox News Sunday” that blaming pro-lifers was “demonizing the messenger” and equated Dear to a mere “protester.”
Anti-abortion politicians' need to distance themselves from Dear is transparent; they need to convince a voting public they don't have blood on their hands. But it's also more than a little hypocritical for a party so deeply concerned with fighting terrorism to avoid adequately addressing such clear domestic threats, regardless of their target.
Not including Friday's incident, there have been at least "eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 186 arsons and thousands of other incidents, including vandalism" at Planned Parenthoods since 1977, according to the National Abortion Foundation. Things have gotten worse in recent years, due, at least in part, to hateful anti-abortion rhetoric; National Abortion Federation president Vicki Saporta told the New York Daily News, “There has been a direct correlation in the release of [videos like those Fiorina has mentioned] and these threats.” In September, an FBI Intelligence Assessment also stated that "it is likely criminal or suspicious incidents will continue to be directed against reproductive health care providers, their staff and facilities."
On Monday (Nov. 30), Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards spoke with NPR about this "incredible escalation of harassment and intimidation" faced by the clinics in recent history, referring to such tactics as "un-American."
Yet however un-American these acts may be in spirit, they belong only to us. American terrorists are not hiding among refugees fleeing war-torn homelands, despite what so many conservative politicians would have us believe. They do not require fake passports to inject our lives with fear. They are not, as Fox's Brian Kilmeade once said, all Muslim. To cast terrorists always as an "other," typically one with dark skin and a thick accent, is to avoid dealing with your own prejudices, and the way your own political rhetoric fuels fanaticism and violence.
One of the men murdered on Friday was named Garrett Swasey. Because Swasey was from Massachusetts, the local news focused heavily on his story, flashing his picture on screen every ten minutes alongside brief descriptors of who he was: graduate of the nearby Melrose High School, six-year veteran of the force, father. The other victims were similarly labeled in a way that emphasized the deep tragedy of their loss: war veteran. Police officer. Mother of two.
As we remember and honor their lives, let us be honest enough to call Robert Lewis Dear what he was, too: a terrorist.