At a gathering of reporters at the Colorado State Capitol Tuesday, Amy Runyon-Harms, director of ProgressNow Colorado, said: “It’s time to name names. It’s time to call out and stop this dangerous campaign of lies from right-wing politicians before more lives are lost.”
Runyon-Harms asked three Colorado politicians to apologize for their “extreme” anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric, which, she said, played a role in inciting a man to kill three people Friday at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
“It must stop, and stop now,” Runyon-Harms said. “We call on right-wing politicians across the state and nation to stop their false attacks on Planned Parenthood, and apologize for lies that are directly contributing to politically motivated violence in America today.”
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The three elected officials, all Republicans, spotlighted at Tuesday’s news conference were U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), and state Sen. Tim Neville, who represents a West Denver suburb and is running for U.S. Senate.
Supporters standing on the steps behind Runyon-Harms and other speakers held signs containing recent quotes from each of the three lawmakers, showing the type of rhetoric organizers of the news conference say leads to violence.
One sign contained a quote by Coffman, in which he stated that abortion practices at Planned Parenthood “fly in the face of human decency.”
On another sign, Klingenschmitt was quoted as saying, “Planned Parenthood … I think they’re also filled with the demonic spirit of murder.”
“Some of the most disgusting videos of Planned Parenthood cutting to pieces and selling unborn baby parts were filmed right here in Denver, Colorado,” was written on another sign, quoting a Neville fundraising letter.
“People take these comments quite literally, and you see the results,” Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, said at the news conference, calling on the public to let politicians know “this extreme rhetoric must stop” immediately. “It’s dangerous,” Middleton said.
Klingenschmitt, Coffman, and Neville did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
Runyon-Harms said that the release of discredited and heavily edited Center for Medical Progress (CMP) videos pushed anti-Planned Parenthood discourse “over the top” into a “veritable feeding frenzy.”
She pointed to an “informational hearing” to investigate Planned Parenthood, staged November 10 at the capitol by the state legislature’s most conservative politicians, as an example of how the videos sparked misinformation and extremism. The legislators at the hearing were among 30 state GOP lawmakers who signed a letter calling Planned Parenthood’s actions “barbaric” and “unethical” as well as accusing the organization of the “trafficking and sale of aborted babies.”
“The attacks on Planned Parenthood have been discredited, but that hasn’t stopped politicians from lying about the organization,” said Runyon-Harms. “And now, three people are dead.”
Runyon-Harms said “words matter,” and she finds it “hard to believe” that Friday’s killings and the inflammatory rhetoric are not connected.
Activists’ sentiments today were echoed in part by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on Sunday, who told CNN that Americans should “tone back the inflammatory rhetoric” that may inspire “emotionally unstable or psychologically unbalanced” people to “commit these acts of unthinkable violence.”
Unlike the activists at today’s news conference, Hickenlooper did not identify specific politicians or public officials as throwing such verbal assaults but instead called out “bloggers and talk shows”—along with the “community” generally.
“I demand not only a responsible dialogue but also a dialogue that is, at a minimum, honest,” said Leslie Herod, a witness who said at the conference she was across the street from Planned Parenthood when the shooting occurred Friday.
Alleged shooter Robert Lewis Dear reportedly used the phrase “no more baby parts” in a conversation with police.
Coffman faces a tough re-election campaign next year against Democrat Morgan Carroll, and Neville is up against numerous Republicans in his Senate primary race. Klingenschmitt in the midst of a primary campaign against fellow Republican state Rep. Bob Gardner.
State Rep. JoAnn Windholz, in a statement to the Colorado Independent, put the blame for Friday’s violence on Planned Parenthood, writing that when such a shooting occurs, “the left goes on ‘auto-pilot’ blaming everyone in sight when they should be looking in a mirror.”
“The left is hoping this will somehow silence the truth tellers,” Dan Caplis, an anti-choice talk radio host, said on air just prior to the news conference. “But it won’t.”