After Robert Lewis Dear was arrested for opening fire inside a Colorado Planned Parenthood clinic on Friday, he reportedly made a remark about "no more baby parts," according to a law enforcement official. The revelation prompted a heated debate about what motivated Dear to allegedly target a reproductive health provider that has been under near-constant assault from Republicans in recent months.
Some GOP presidential candidates rushed to argue that the killings have nothing to do with the anti-abortion movement or with the political campaign against Planned Parenthood, which has hinged upon a series of heavily edited sting videos that purport to show staff members discussing the donation of fetal tissue.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz claimed that the rampage was carried out by a "deranged individual," not a "pro-life" activist. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said the attacks were not something that the anti-abortion movement would condone, though he went on to say it was too early to jump to conclusions about the attacker's motive and called the shooting an act of terrorism. (Other presidential hopefuls, of course, have yet to say anything about the incident.)
But if Cruz and Huckabee want to argue that the anti-abortion movement rejects violence against abortion providers, they'll have to re-examine their ties to well-known activists who have made inflammatory comments in support of exactly that sort of extremism.
Just eight days before the Planned Parenthood shooting, Cruz touted an endorsement from Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Newman has previously called for the mass execution of abortion providers and people who had sought their services, according to Right Wing Watch. Here's an excerpt from his book Their Blood Cries Out:
"When moms, dads, abortionists are added together, well over 100,000,000 people bear personal bloodguilt for at least one abortion. The doctrine of community bloodguilt found in Scripture further implicates the entire nation. The perpetrators are far too numerous and the bloodguilt has spread too far. We deserve God’s judgment.
In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty. This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people.
Newman's group has sought to craft a mainstream image as "the most visible voice of the pro-life activist movement in America," but its leadership tells a more complicated story. In 1988, Cheryl Sullenger, now Operation Rescue's vice president, was convicted along with her husband for their part in a failed plot to blow up an abortion clinic. (Sullenger says she now regrets her actions.)
After Friday's shooting, Operation Rescue was careful to strike a different tone, saying in a statement that it "unequivocally deplores and denounces all violence at abortion clinics."
Earlier this month, both Cruz and Huckabee -- as well as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has since dropped out of the presidential race -- attended a conference hosted by pastor Kevin Swanson. At the time, Swanson attracted criticism for his vehemently anti-gay views. But as Right Wing Watch pointed out earlier this month, in 2009, Swanson also hailed the actions of Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion extremist who was later found guilty of murdering Kansas abortion provider George Tiller.
“If anybody’s keeping count ... Let’s see, Tiller killed 60,000 babies, so that’s 60,000 dead babies and one dead abortionist," Swanson said on his radio show. "So, let’s just say, the abortionists are still ahead on this one."
"It is interesting that if you live by the sword, you die by the sword," the pastor continued. "Wasn’t that what Jesus said? And this is really, pretty much, what happens. People tend to get their upcommance [sic], and that’s precisely what happened to Tiller the Killer."
Both Cruz and Huckabee have since sought to downplay the significance of Swanson's anti-gay beliefs, and neither campaign responded to HuffPost's requests for comment on the pastor's anti-abortion views.
While Cruz and Huckabee are quick to say they don't support anti-abortion violence themselves, it's harder for them to deny the troubling rhetoric and behavior of activists claiming to represent the candidates' values.
In the past few months, Republicans in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail have used the sting videos to portray Planned Parenthood as a "barbaric" organization that harvests the organs of aborted fetuses for profit. Multiple investigations have concluded that the footage showed no evidence of wrongdoing, but many conservatives have continued to rail against the health care provider.
And it's not just words. The intensifying crusade against Planned Parenthood has been accompanied by a series of physical and virtual attacks on abortion clinics. If Republicans like Cruz and Huckabee want to send a message that they oppose this type of terrorism, they could start by cutting ties with anyone who has supported such violence in the past.
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