His press release, which is partially headlined “Candidate Says He Let His Imagination Get Out of Control,” reads:
“I want to be clear to the people of New Hampshire that I made several comments about the use of deadly force against abortion doctors that I regret, that I apologize for and that I fully retract,” Szabo said. “Clearly, I feel very strongly about life beginning at conception, and that will not change. But, in making comments yesterday, I let my passionate stance against abortion get the better of me.
“What I said was inexcusable, and as sheriff, I would not use lethal force against an abortion doctor,” Szabo said. “To explain my misstatement, however, I want to point out that for someone as adamantly pro-life as me, walking in on an abortion is the equivalent of walking in on someone who is in the process of stabbing someone else. When caught off guard by questions about using lethal force, I answered based on that understanding. While I maintain that abortion is unlawful because it strips the right to life from a helpless unborn child, I recognize it is legal, and for that reason deadly force against an abortion doctor is not justifiable.”
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In his quest to secure conservative votes, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) has embraced extremists across the country, many of whom have well-documented histories of anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ, and racist rhetoric. As more moderate Republicans flock to Cruz in a push to block Donald Trump from winning their party’s nomination, Cruz’s support of these extremists sheds light on his future policy making, should he be elected president.
Though hardly an exhaustive list of the radicals with whom Cruz has aligned, here are some of the most reactionary characters in his playbook.
Cruz and activist Troy Newman, head of theradical anti-choice group Operation Rescue, have spent months on the campaign trail praising each other’s extreme stances on abortion.
Operation Rescue moved to Wichita, Kansas, in 2002 to continue its campaign to intimidate abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, whom it had nicknamed “Tiller the Killer.” Before Newman came on as president, the group had previously targeted Tiller as part of its 1991 “Summer of Mercy,” when it led protesters to physically block and verbally intimidate those entering abortion clinics in Wichita, holding signs that, among other things, read “Tiller’s Slaughter House.”
Although Newman issued a statement on behalf of Operation Rescue condemning Scott Roeder when he murdered Tiller in 2009, a 2010 Ms. investigation reported that, according to Roeder, Newman had once told him that “it wouldn’t upset” him if an abortion provider was killed. (Newman denied meeting Roeder.) Roeder also had the phone number of Operation Rescue’s Cheryl Sullenger on a note on the dashboard of his car when he murdered Tiller. Sullenger, the senior vice president of the group, had been sentenced to prison time in 1988 for attempting to bomb an abortion clinic.
Newman co-founded anti-choice front group Center for Medical Progress (CMP) in 2013, whose widely discredited videos alleged that Planned Parenthood was illegally profiting from fetal tissue donations. Multiple ensuinginvestigations at both the state and federal level produced no evidence of wrongdoing, and one of the group’s other founders, David Daleiden, was later indicted in connection to the videos. Newman later separated from the group.
Despite the extremism of Newman’s groups, Cruz lauded the anti-choice activist upon receiving his endorsement in November, saying in a statement, “We need leaders like Troy Newman in this country who will stand up for those who do not have a voice.”
Cruz announced in late January that Newman would co-chair his coalition of anti-choice advisers, “Pro-Lifers for Cruz,” listing Newman’s book co-authored with Sullenger, Their Blood Cries Out, among his accomplishments. As Right Wing Watch noted, however, the text argues women who have abortions should be treated like murderers, and that abortion doctors should be executed. The book, now out of print, read: “[T]he 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 [sic] from the land and people,” according toMother Jones.
Troy Newman isn’t the only radical in “Pro-Lifers for Cruz”—the group’s chair, Tony Perkins, is an anti-LGBTQ activist with a history of aiding extremist anti-choice groups.
Since 2003, Perkins has led the Family Research Council (FRC), classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as a “hate group” for its anti-LGBTQ record.
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Recounting Perkins’ biography, the SPLC noted that although he claimed to have left a police force position over a disagreement about containing an anti-choice protest, “the reality is quite different.” The SPLC pointed to a report from the Nation finding that Perkins “failed to report an illegal conspiracy by anti-abortion activists” Operation Rescue during the group’s 1992 “Summer of Purpose,” while he worked dual roles as a reserve police officer in Baton Rouge and reporting for a conservative television station:
According to Victor Sachse, a classical record shop owner in the city who volunteered as a patient escort for the clinic, Perkins’ reporting was so consistently slanted and inflammatory that the clinic demanded his removal from its grounds.
In order to control an increasingly tense situation, the police chief had a chain-link fence erected to separate anti-abortion activists from pro-choice protesters, and he called in sheriff’s deputies and prison guards as extra forces. Perkins publicly criticized the department and the chief. Then, after learning about plans for violent tactics by anti-abortion activists to break through police lines and send waves of protesters onto the clinic’s grounds, he failed to inform his superiors on the force. As a result of his actions, Perkins was suspended from duty in 1992, and he subsequently quit the reserve force.
Cruz’s list of national security advisers, meanwhile, includes Frank Gaffney Jr. Even in the face of criticism, Cruz has defended his pick, telling CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “Frank Gaffney is a serious thinker who has been focused on fighting jihadists, fighting jihadism across the globe.”
Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official, is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). In this year’s Intelligence Report, which documents extremist groups, the SPLC categorized CSP as an anti-Muslim hate group.
The CSP’s primary focus in recent years “has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security” by promoting conspiracy theories, according to SPLC. The Center for American Progress’ 2011 report, The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,featured Gaffney as a key player in promoting anti-Muslim rhetoric in the United States, writing that he often “makes unsubstantiated claims about ‘stealth jihad,’ the ‘imposition of Sharia law,’ and the proliferation of ‘radical mosques.'”
Cruz announced in early April that his Colorado Leadership Team included state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), asserting he was “honored” to have the support of the politician and 24 other conservatives from the the state.
The previous week, Klingenschmitt had made headlines for claiming transgender people are “confused about their own identity” during an appearance on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Klingenschmitt had been previously stripped of his position on the Colorado House of Representatives’ House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee in early 2015 after claiming on his television program that a violent attack on a pregnant woman in the state was the result of “the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb.”
“Part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open,” claimed Klingenschmitt at the time before going on to pray for an “end to the holocaust which is abortion in America.”
In the wake of the deadly shootings at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood in November 2015, Klingenschmitt claimed that “Planned Parenthood executives” have the “same demonic spirit of murder” as the alleged killer, Robert Lewis Dear Jr.
Earlier in 2015, the Colorado state representativesaid that Planned Parenthood executives have “demons inside of them, you can see the blood dripping from their fangs. These people are just evil.” That June, he criticized Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) for signing a measure forcing those seeking abortions to receive medically unnecessary forced ultrasounds, claiming that the law didn’t go far in enough because it didn’t ban abortion entirely
. James Dobson
Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the aforementioned Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.
Dobson’s own personalrhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,
Conservative radio host Steve Deace, a member of the Cruz campaign’s Iowa leadership team, is “virulently anti-LGBT, having repeatedly attacked supporters of LGBT equality as being part of a ‘Rainbow Jihad,'” according to media watchdog organization Media Matters for America.
In October Cruz announced he was “thrilled” to receive the endorsement of Sandy Rios, a conservative radio host and official at the American Family Association-yet another organization classified by the SPLC as a hate group. Rios gained notoriety during the 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphiaafter claiming the conductor’s sexuality may have played a role in the accident.
Cruz and several other Republican presidential candidates spoke alongside far-right, anti-LGBTQ pastor and Christian radio host Kevin Swanson in November at the National Religious Liberties Conference. Swanson is featured in GLAAD’s Commentator Accountability Project, which highlights figures who “represent extreme animus towards the entire LGBT community.”
A&E’s Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson has been a fierce Cruz supporter, and in February the presidential candidate pitched the idea of making him an ambassador to the United Nations should he be elected. Just weeks earlier, Robertson had called same-sex marriage “evil” during a Cruz rally. This statement came as little surprise given the reality television star’s previous comments condemning homosexuality and linking it to bestiality.
Cruz was also “thrilled” in March to win an endorsement from “Ohio’s top conservative leaders”—a list that included activist Linda Harvey, who once wrote that LGBTQ youth may be possessed by “demonic spirits.”
Convicted murderer Scott Roeder is set to be re-sentenced in connection with the death of Dr. George Tiller while his associate Angel Dillard will stand trial for threatening another Wichita, Kansas abortion provider. These are particularly alarming developments at a time when anti-choice violence has spiked.
It only took a jury about half an hour in 2010 to convict Scott Roeder of first-degree murder for the 2009 shooting death of Dr. George Tiller at Tiller’s church in Wichita, Kansas. Roeder admitted during the trial that he had thought about and planned Tiller’s murder for years. He offered no witnesses in his defense. Instead, Roeder argued that he was justified in Tiller’s murder because it was the only way to end abortion in Wichita.
Roeder was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 50 years, otherwise known as a “hard 50.” But in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled juries, not judges, needed to make certain criminal sentencing decisions. Though a jury convicted Roeder of the crime of first-degree murder, a judge issued his sentence. That means Roeder’s underlying murder conviction stands, but the amount of time he’s supposed to serve is now up for grabs. On Wednesday, a judge ruled that a new jury will have to decide if Roeder’s “hard 50” sentence was justified. And with that potential new sentencing comes a fresh opportunity for Roeder and his attorneys to advance the radical legal argument that the murder of abortion doctors is justified under the law—a particularly alarming sentiment at a time when anti-choice violence has spiked.
The necessity defense invoked by Roeder is an actual, legitimate legal defense where the defendant argues they committed a particular crime in order to avoid a greater “harm or evil” being committed. To that extent, it is not so much an “I didn’t do it” defense as it is a “there’s a good reason why I did it, and so you should go easy on me” defense. In Roeder’s case, as echoed by other anti-choice radicals, murdering abortion doctors is “necessary” to prevent the greater evil of legal abortion.
Not all states recognize the necessity defense; Kansas generally doesn’t. And suffice it to say that no court has recognized the defense in connection with the murder of a doctor for doing his job. But that didn’t stop Roeder and his attorneys from arguing it anyway, and it won’t stop them from doing it again this summer.
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Nor, for that matter, did it stop Sedgwick County District Court Judge Warren Wilbert from saying Wednesday that Roeder may have a constitutional right to presenthis evidence for why the necessity defense should apply to his case. Essentially, Roeder and his attorneys can potentially outline for a new jury all the reasons Roeder felt his killing of Tiller was for the greater good.
This is not the first time Wilbert has indicated a willingnessto consider Roeder’s “necessity” defense. Wilbert also oversaw Roeder’s initial criminal trial and ruled that Roeder couldn’t specifically argue the necessity defense because Kansas law does not recognize it. But Wilbert did leave the door open for Roeder to present during his first trial evidence and arguments that he murdered Tiller to defend the lives of “the unborn.” That opening could have allowed jurors to find Roeder guilty of a lesser charge like voluntary manslaughter, defined under Kansas law as the “unreasonable but honest belief that circumstances existed that justified deadly force.” That didn’t happen, thankfully, and the jury convicted Roeder of intentional first-degree murder, a crime that carries an automatic sentence of life in prison. Now, because of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling, a jury will determine whether Roeder must serve at least 25 or 50 years of his life sentence before he is eligible for a parole hearing.
Roeder’s next scheduled hearing is on April 29, when Roeder’s attorneys have been instructed by the court to provide any “mitigating factors” a jury should consider in weighing Roeder’s sentence. Roeder’s actual sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled.
Roeder’s re-sentencing may seem like one of those “procedural” issues that doesn’t change much. The chance of Roeder, who was 51 when convicted, of dying in prison is likelier than him ever being paroled. But it is a procedural issue that comes at an inauspicious time for the issue of violence against abortion providers, especially in Kansas.
Angel Dillard, a woman who claims to be a “minister” to Scott Roeder, is set to stand trial in Kansas on May 3 for claims she threatened Dr. Mila Means, another Wichita abortion provider, out of taking over Tiller’s clinic following his murder. According to reports, Dillard told Means in a 2011 letter that thousands of people across the country were looking into her background. “They will know your habits and routines,” the letter read. “They know where you you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, where you live. You will be checking under your car [every day]—because maybe today is the day someone places an explosive under it.” That letter prompted the Department of Justice to bring a Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act claim against Dillard. Initially, a federal court ruled Dillard’s letter was protected free speech, but a federal appeals court overturned that decision and ordered Dillard to stand trial.
During their initial investigation of Dillard, the Obama administration had tried, unsuccessfully, to find out what connection she had to Roeder after prison logs revealed Roeder had several communications with Dillard and Rev. Michael Bray. Bray, an Ohio anti-choice radical, also promotes the use of lethal force in the battle over abortion rights, and spent four years in prison in connection with attacks on several abortion clinics in the Washington, D.C. area.
When Dillard’s trial begins in May, the Justice Department could, through other evidentiary means, be able to make the specific connections between Roeder, Dillard, and Bray without relying on testimony from any of them. Justice Department attorneys may even be able to connect Tiller’s murder, and the threats against Means, to other Wichita-based anti-choice activists like Operation Rescue’s Troy Newman. When Roeder was arrested, for example, he had Newman’s second-in-command Cheryl Sullenger’s phone number in his car. Sullenger served almost two years in prison after pleading guilty to her role in a 1988 plan to bomb a California abortion clinic.
And, of course, the consequences of these operations reach beyond Wichita or anti-choicers’ direct contacts. Most recently Sullenger and Newman have admitted to their roles in “consulting” with the radical anti-choice Center for Medical Progress, an organization set up by David Daleiden and others to try and prove through infiltration that Planned Parenthood and other providers were selling unlawfully selling fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing. But CMP’s videos, and the dozens of baseless state and federal investigations they’ve inspired, have produced a significant uptick in violent threats and activities against abortion providers, such as the Black Friday siege of a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The attack ended in the shooting deaths of three people; the accused shooter, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., has said he committed the murders to “save the babies.”
Dear had initially said he planned to plead guilty to the murder charges connected with the Planned Parenthood attacks. He has apparently changed his mind and, if found competent to stand trial, would now like to plead not guilty.
There is no evidence, at least none disclosed, that Dear had any direct contact with anti-choice radicals like Newman or Sullenger, or that he even knows who they are. The Colorado Supreme Court recently ordered documents related to Dear’s arrest unsealed. They could be disclosed as soon as next week, and could provide more answers as to any relationships Dear has with the broader anti-choice movement.
Roeder, Dillard, Dear. All three cases will be going on this summer as anti-choice activists descend in July on Wichita to mark the 25th anniversary of the Summer of Mercy, a massive protest organized by radicals to try and make Wichita “abortion free.” Operation Rescue first orchestrated the 46-day campaign in 1991; Operation Save America (OSA) has since picked up the mantle. According to Rusty Thomas, director of OSA, July’s protest will focus on “states defying a tyrannical court” that recognized the right to an abortion.
“They must do their duty to interpose and nullify that lawless decree and protect the preborn,” Thomas told Christian Newswire.
Thomas insists July’s protests will be peaceful. But anti-choice radicals also insist their rhetoric and propaganda have no link to violence against abortion providers, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. So even if Thomas is correct and July’s protests produce no immediate acts of violence, the Roeder, Dillard, and Dear trials show “peaceful” anti-choice activity is an oxymoron.
Many anti-choice radicals hold Roeder up as a hero, and his re-sentencing hearing provides an opportunity to rally against the “lawless decree” of Roe v. Wade, as well as the courts that protect abortion rights and convicted Roeder of his crimes. It also provides as a forum for Roeder and his attorneys to yet again advance, even fruitlessly, the legal argument that murder of an abortion doctor can sometimes be justified if the murderer really truly believes they are preventing a greater evil. Dillard will be arguing in her trial that her letter to Dr. Means suggesting she’d wake up to a bomb under her car wasn’t truly a threat because abortion providers should just expect those kinds of letters. Roeder, Dillard, and their attorneys will be in courts of law in Kansas arguing for not just the normalization of violence against abortion providers, but the legal justification for it.And Dear’s trial will be displaying the natural extension of that rhetoric.
Meanwhile, Thomas will be calling on their supporters and the courts to ignore the rule of law. That is troubling—to say the least.