When news first broke about Robert Dear killing three people at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs last year, there was an effort, as is there always, to cast him first as a "gentle" man and then, when that failed, to cast him as a "lone madman."
In the days following his arrest, I wrote:
The coverage of the man, since the earliest moments when his name was released, has been troubling. Despite the fact that he made it clear what his motive was, by muttering about "baby parts," the media has played the most appalling game of Occam's Big Paisley Tie ever, treating his motive like a fucking mystery.The next day, we learned Dear had a history of anti-choice interference, including having "put glue in the locks of a Planned Parenthood location in Charleston."
Early reports on who Robert Dear is looked more like dating profiles than they did profiles of a domestic terrorist. The New York Times reported that acquaintances described him as "a gentle itinerant loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew."
...Soon we learned that Dear had been reported for at least one incident of domestic violence, and that he was known to abuse animals. Less and less "gentle," it seemed.
Dear was also married three times, and his second wife has described him as someone who "erupts into fury in a matter of seconds," saying she "lived in fear and dread of his emotional and physical abuse."
Further, it has now emerged that Dear was "charged with rape in South Carolina more than 20 years ago." After harassing and stalking a married woman who was not interested in his advances, he went to her house and then beat and sexually assaulted her at knifepoint.
Not so much a "gentle loner," then.
He was not gentle, and he was not a loner. And he was explicitly motivated by anti-choice ideology.
Now, as a hearing to determine whether he is competent to stand trial approaches, the AP reports that Dear "told police he admired Paul Hill, a former minister who was executed in 2003 for the 1994 shootings of abortion provider Dr. John Bayard Britton and his bodyguard, a retired U.S. Air Force officer named James Herman Barrett, outside the Ladies Center in Pensacola, Florida."
Dear often talked about Hill, including once when he drove past a North Carolina abortion clinic and again when he learned that Colorado Springs had a clinic, his girlfriend told police. Dear's comments after the gunbattle even seemed to echo Hill, who spoke of being rewarded in heaven for his actions.Robert Dear was a not a loner, in any sense of the word. He saw himself as part a movement. He saw that he could be a hero of that movement.
During an interview in which he repeatedly recited Bible passages, Dear told police he dreamed he would be "met by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him for what he did because his actions saved lives of other unborn fetuses," the documents say. "He was happy with what he had done because his actions ... ensured that no more abortions would be conducted at the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs," which has since reopened.
Before the shooting, Dear frequently posted messages online about his anti-abortion views, he told police. In 2009, he emailed his son a link to a website that has the stated purpose of "honoring heroes who stood up for the unborn," with links to information about Hill and others who had targeted abortion clinics.
This heinous act of anti-choice terrorism didn't emerge from a vacuum. Dear is the precise opposite of a "lone madman." He is a calculating killer who was inspired by, and hoped to inspire, people who share his ideology.
This flagrant, shameless, decades-long campaign of intimidation, harassment, and threats and acts of violence against healthcare providers who offer abortion services to pregnant people (or are even presumed to offer abortion services), and the spaces in which they offer them, in defense of an inherently violent ideology, is a comprehensive terrorist movement which, from just 1977 to 2011, included multiple assassinations, multiple attempted assassinations, and over 200 arsons and bombings.
Robert Dear could only be said to be "acting alone" if one ignores this vast terrorist network and its unifying ideology, which is so central to public life in the US that it's a centerpiece of the platform of one of the nation's two major political parties.
This didn't happen in a void, and it will happen again and again, until we stop pretending that acts of anti-choice terrorism are disconnected acts committed by lone madmen.