Commentary Violence

Anti-Choice Violence: Why Colorado Springs Is Different

Carole Joffe

Unlike nearly all the actions of other anti-abortion terrorists, the violence at the Colorado Springs clinic for which Dear was arrested did not appear to specifically target abortion providers. Rather, the institution of Planned Parenthood itself, along with anyone who happened to be on the premises, appeared to be the intended victim.

Read more of our articles on the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting here.

In some ways, the profile of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who was arrested for a shooting rampage at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Friday, is similar to that of the other six individuals who have been charged with abortion-related murders in the past two decades. But unlike them, Dear does not appear to have a history of public involvement with the organized anti-choice movement. Though several sources, including an ex-wife, told the New York Times that he was staunchly against abortion, another former partner said that “It was never really a topic of discussion.

The contrasts between this horrific incident and those of the past reveals the extent to which abortion opponents, including virtually all the current Republican presidential candidates, have succeeded in raising the demonization of Planned Parenthood to an unprecedented level. This has been aided, of course, by the release of the discredited videos made by the Center for Medical Progress (CMP).

Unlike nearly all the actions of other anti-abortion terrorists, the violence at the Colorado Springs clinic for which Dear was arrested did not appear to specifically target abortion providers. Rather, the institution of Planned Parenthood itself, along with anyone who happened to be on the premises, appeared to be the intended victim. In fact, those who tragically died at the scene included a police officer and two individuals who were accompanying friends to the clinic and not receiving any services themselves.

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Robert Dear, it is important to note, has a range of apparent grievances. Fitting the stereotype of the “angry white male,” according to those who knew him, he is virulently anti-government and deeply opposed to President Obama. He also has a history of being accused of domestic violence, rape, and other disturbing behaviors concerning women. Though I think it would be inappropriate at this remove to put a definitive psychiatric label on him, it is safe to conclude that he is a troubled and aggressive individual, as several of his former neighbors have stated.

What is striking to me, given that abortion was only one of several issues bothering him, is that a Planned Parenthood clinic was ultimately where he, according to authorities, chose to act on his rage. Why, for example, not a government office, as other men with similar profiles to Dear’s have targeted?

The report we have thus far of Dear’s interview with police after his arrest is that he mentioned “no more baby parts”—a clear reference to the misinformation put out by the CMP videos about Planned Parenthood’s donations of fetal tissue to researchers—as well as numerous other topics in a rambling statement. I suggest that one way to interpret the attack on the Colorado Springs clinic is that Planned Parenthood, once the most mainstream of institutions supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, is becoming the ultimate symbol of evil to those on the extreme right. Thanks to the drumbeat of lies from irresponsible figures, it is becoming the place, at this historical moment, for unstable individuals with terroristic impulses to act on their diffuse anger.

From the moment that the CMP videos attacking Planned Parenthood were released in July, and, notably, after the Colorado Springs shootings, abortion opponents obsessively dwelt on the theme of “baby parts” being “harvested” and “sold” for profit. Carly Fiorina, for example, at a Republican candidates’ debate, famously said, “Watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking while someone says, ‘We have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.’” Fiorina later doubled down on her statement, even as other conservatives acknowledged the untruthfulness of the claim.

After the shooting, Donald Trump took the occasion to repeat his earlier assertion that Planned Parenthood was “selling” fetal tissue “like parts to a car. Also after the Colorado Springs tragedy, Erick Erickson, a prominent right-wing blogger, compared Cecile Richards to the infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and went on to state, “Under her leadership at Planned Parenthood, doctors have been killing children and harvesting the children’s organs. In some cases, the children are born alive. In some case[s], whole children are born and then carved up.”

Without more information, it is impossible at this time to directly tie Friday’s tragedy to any individual abortion opponent or particular statement. But that does not mean we should dismiss the idea that this nonstop barrage of anti-Planned Parenthood vitriol plays a part in inflaming the imagination of people like Robert Dear. In a very perceptive piece about the incident in Colorado, Valerie Tarico discussed the concept, drawn from media studies, of “stochastic terrorism”: “Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.”  

Tarico pointed to the fact that in September, two months after the release of the first CMP videos, the FBI warned of probable attacks on Planned Parenthood facilities. And indeed, in the months leading up to Colorado Springs, there have been a number of cases of fire-bombings and other acts of vandalism at abortion-providing facilities. In other words, while abortion opponents are piously denying any possible connection between their Planned Parenthood bashing and Dear’s action, the FBI clearly knew better.

Only a lowering of the inflammatory and blatantly untruthful rhetoric about the organization and a cessation of the witch hunt against it through the various “investigations” under way will change the seductiveness of Planned Parenthood as a target. Sadly, there appears little reason to hope that these things will take place.  

Commentary Sexuality

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday Must Become an Annual Observance

Raquel Willis

As long as trans people—many of them Black trans women—continue to be murdered, there will be a need to commemorate their lives, work to prevent more deaths, and uplift Black trans activism.

This piece is published in collaboration with Echoing Ida, a Forward Together project.

This week marks one year since Black transgender activists in the United States organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday. Held on Tuesday, August 25, the national day of action publicized Black trans experiences and memorialized 18 trans women, predominantly trans women of color, who had been murdered by this time last year.

In conjunction with the Black Lives Matter network, the effort built upon an earlier Trans Liberation Tuesday observance created by Bay Area organizations TGI Justice Project and Taja’s Coalition to recognize the fatal stabbing of 36-year-old trans Latina woman Taja DeJesus in February 2015.

Black Trans Liberation Tuesday should become an annual observance because transphobic violence and discrimination aren’t going to dissipate with one-off occurrences. I propose that Black Trans Liberation Tuesday fall on the fourth Tuesday of August to coincide with the first observance and also the August 24 birthday of the late Black trans activist Marsha P. Johnson.

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There is a continuing need to pay specific attention to Black transgender issues, and the larger Black community must be pushed to stand in solidarity with us. Last year, Black trans activists, the Black Lives Matter network, and GetEQUAL collaborated on a blueprint of what collective support looks like, discussions that led to Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“Patrisse Cullors [a co-founder of Black Lives Matter] had been in talks on ways to support Black trans women who had been organizing around various murders,” said Black Lives Matter Organizing Coordinator Elle Hearns of Washington, D.C. “At that time, Black trans folks had been experiencing erasure from the movement and a lack of support from cis people that we’d been in solidarity with who hadn’t reciprocated that support.”

This erasure speaks to a long history of Black LGBTQ activism going underrecognized in both the civil rights and early LGBTQ liberation movements. Many civil rights leaders bought into the idea that influential Black gay activist Bayard Rustin was unfit to be a leader simply because he had relationships with men, though he organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Johnson, who is often credited with kicking off the 1969 Stonewall riots with other trans and gender-nonconforming people of color, fought tirelessly for LGBTQ rights. She and other trans activists of color lived in poverty and danger (Johnson was found dead under suspicious circumstances in July 1992), while the white mainstream gay elite were able to demand acceptance from society. Just last year, Stonewall, a movie chronicling the riots, was released with a whitewashed retelling that centered a white, cisgender gay male protagonist.

The Black Lives Matter network has made an intentional effort to avoid the pitfalls of those earlier movements.

“Our movement has been intersectional in ways that help all people gain liberation whether they see it or not. It became a major element of the network vision and how it was seeing itself in the Black liberation movement,” Hearns said. “There was no way to discuss police brutality without discussing structural violence affecting Black lives, in general”—and that includes Black trans lives.

Despite a greater mainstream visibility for LGBTQ issues in general, Black LGBTQ issues have not taken the forefront in Black freedom struggles. When a Black cisgender heterosexual man is killed, his name trends on social media feeds and is in the headlines, but Black trans women don’t see the same importance placed on their lives.

According to a 2015 report by the Anti-Violence Project, a group dedicated to ending anti-LGBTQ and HIV-affected community violence, trans women of color account for 54 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicides. Despite increased awareness, with at least 20 transgender people murdered since the beginning of this year, it seems things haven’t really changed at all since Black Trans Liberation Tuesday.

“There are many issues at hand when talking about Black trans issues, particularly in the South. There’s a lack of infrastructure and support in the nonprofit sector, but also within health care and other systems. Staffs at LGBTQ organizations are underfunded when it comes to explicitly reaching the trans community,” said Micky Bradford, the Atlanta-based regional organizer for TLC@SONG. “The space between towns can harbor isolation from each other, making it more difficult to build up community organizing, coalitions, and culture.”

The marginalization that Black trans people face comes from both the broader society and the Black community. Fighting white supremacy is a full-time job, and some activists within the Black Lives Matter movement see homophobia and transphobia as muddying the fight for Black liberation.

“I think we have a very special relationship with gender and gender violence to all Black people,” said Aaryn Lang, a New York City-based Black trans activist. “There’s a special type of trauma that Black people inflict on Black trans people because of how strict the box of gender and space of gender expression has been to move in for Black people. In the future of the movement, I see more people trusting that trans folks have a vision that’s as diverse as blackness is.”

But even within that diversity, Black trans people are often overlooked in movement spaces due to anti-Blackness in mainstream LGBTQ circles and transphobia in Black circles. Further, many Black trans people aren’t in the position to put energy into movement work because they are simply trying to survive and find basic resources. This can create a disconnect between various sections of the Black trans community.

Janetta Johnson, executive director of TGI Justice Project in San Francisco, thinks the solution is twofold: increased Black trans involvement and leadership in activism spaces, and more facilitated conversations between Black cis and trans people.

“I think a certain part of the transgender community kind of blocks all of this stuff out. We are saying we need you to come through this process and see how we can create strength in numbers. We need to bring in other trans people not involved in the movement,” she said. “We need to create a space where we can share views and strategies and experiences.”

Those conversations must be an ongoing process until the killings of Black trans women like Rae’Lynn Thomas, Dee Whigham, and Skye Mockabee stop.

“As we commemorate this year, we remember who and why we organized Black Trans Liberation Tuesday last year. It’s important we realize that Black trans lives are still being affected in ways that everyday people don’t realize,” Hearns said. “We must understand why movements exist and why people take extreme action to continuously interrupt the system that will gladly forget them.”

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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