Four days after the deadly mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, a crucial question about the suspect, 57-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, remains: Was the assault a political act, or simply the random undertaking of a madman?
The question is important politically. Planned Parenthood itself and many on the left side of the American ideological spectrum have said extremist anti-abortion rhetoric is at least partly to blame for the violence, and view this as just the latest chapter in a decades-long campaign of violent terrorism against reproductive freedom. The right, on the other hand—which often views abortion itself as an act of violence—has largely dismissed Dear as a crazy person unrelated to any mainstream politics, an interpretation offered by Donald Trump, among other wannabe statesmen.
A deeply reported New York Times story that dropped Tuesday afternoon attempted to suss out the answer to that question. Dear was certainly disturbed, the paper found, but he also apparently had longstanding anti-abortion views:
A number of people who knew Mr. Dear said he was a staunch abortion opponent, though another ex-wife, Pamela Ross, said that he did not obsess on the subject. After his arrest, Mr. Dear said "no more baby parts" to investigators, a law enforcement official said.
One person who spoke with him extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing "God's work." In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as "heroes" members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.
In addition to sympathizing with murderers, Dear allegedly beat his second wife, committed serial adultery, and even raped a married woman he became obsessed with after meeting her at a Sears. He seems to have alternated between fits of religious frenzy, often expressed in all caps on the internet, and episodes of (sometimes-violent) hedonism.
It's safe to say the religious right—and, for that matter, Republican presidential candidates—aren't likely to admit their own rhetoric has any kind of impact on people like Dear. And as the New Yorker has noted, unlike many terrorists who have attacked Planned Parenthood clinics in the past, Dear wasn't a veteran anti-abortion activist, so the linkage between him and right-wing extremism isn't so clear-cut. But whatever his mental state, it's increasingly clear that this man's choice of target was not a random one. In other words, there's a reason that some Planned Parenthood clinics across America are currently reviewing their security measures.
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