Contrary to what you might have read in mainstream media outlets, we still know remarkably little about what might have motivated the alleged shooter who killed three in Colorado Springs on Friday. That has not stopped politicians and the press from definitively declaring the shooter not merely a suspected criminal but an ideologue with potentially terroristic designs.
The “Planned Parenthood shooter,” as the Washington Post initially dubbed him only to back off this charged label, took the lives of three and hospitalized nine in a rampage before holding himself up for hours inside a local Planned Parenthood facility. Democratic politicians and media outlets immediately dubbed the attack motivated by anti-abortion activism. Some implied or outright insisted that the alleged shooter was incited to violence by his fellow activists who were moved to revulsion by the recently released series of undercover videos revealing controversial and potentially illegal practices at some of this organization’s facilities. It is hard not to pick up on the insinuations telegraphed by left-leaning politician and reporter alike: Republican politicians who, for the most part, share pro-life views must denounce this shooter not merely because of the horrors he meted out on Friday but because they share a bit of the blame for his actions.
The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty declared the GOP field “nearly silent” in an article that spent 12 paragraphs rehashing the political (as opposed to the moral or legal) impact of the Planned Parenthood scandal as well as Democratic calls for stricter gun control measures and more tolerance toward abortion before noting the GOP field wasn’t silent at all. “There is no acceptable explanation for this violence, and I will continue to pray for those who have been impacted,” wrote Jeb Bush. “Praying for the loved ones of those killed, those injured & first responders who bravely got the situation under control in Colorado Springs,” Ted Cruz asserted. Still, the narrative had been cemented. “That the killings on Friday took place at a clinic that performs abortions made the issue even more combustible for the Republican hopefuls, nearly all of whom oppose abortion rights and many of whom have inveighed against Planned Parenthood,” the New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin noted.
It’s certainly fair to ask why more Republican presidential candidates did not express sympathy for the police officer killed and five others wounded, if not the two civilians also murdered on Friday. But that was not the primary concern of these political reporters marveling over the GOP field’s decision not to echo Democratic assumptions that this was a vile attack on the very idea of women’s access to healthcare. “The Republican candidates’ silence is even more remarkable given that a police officer was killed and several more were wounded,” remarked Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce. “Even more,” one presumes, than their silence over the suspected motives of what was surely a politically inspired killer.
But what we know about the shooter does not lead one to the inescapable conclusion that this was a politicized hit man engaged in an act of domestic terrorism. A thorough report in the Washington Post on the alleged killer, Robert Lewis Dear Jr., reads lamentably familiar. He was a loner and a drifter, currently residing in a padlocked, yellow shack in the woods. He was erratic; his neighbors were afraid of him. He was described as “delusional and aggressive” and had been previously arrested for cruelty to animals and invasions of privacy. Indeed, the Post discovered quite a lot about Dear. What they couldn’t find, however, were any links to anti-abortion activism. “The neighbors said they never saw Dear with a gun, and they never heard him speak about politics or abortion rights,” the Post reported. “Antiabortion groups were quick to denounce the shooting and distance themselves from Dear, with many activists saying they have never interacted with or heard of him.”
If you’re getting the sense that Dear was mentally disturbed, like almost every mass shooter without a professed political objective, a variety of other reports compiled by National Review’s Rich Lowry reinforce that impression. His ramblings were described by one neighbor as “crazy,” which was perhaps a kindness considering their detachment from reality. One neighbor said that Dear advised him to put a metal roof on his house to prevent the government from spying on him. Another said Dear told him that he worked for the government and had acquired enough information to imperil the whole country. Another Washington Post dispatch found one unnamed law enforcement source who described Dear’s slaughter as “definitely politically motivated” and cited as evidence for this the suspect muttering “no more baby parts’’ upon his arrest. That’s precisely what a lucid individual in full command of his cognitive faculties would say.
For politicians to attempt to make political hay out of recent bloodshed is one thing, but for the press to echo these charges almost verbatim is deeply disturbing. There is ample cause for caution here. Even law enforcement has refused to officially characterize Dear’s motives. The rush to impose them upon him for political benefit is damning. That is the act of a movement that is in desperate need of exogenous events to reaffirm faith in its own convictions. It is a movement that reveals it cares little for the threat of a backlash against groups unfairly implicated in condoning or inciting violence against others, as Democrats are forever warning in the wake of acts of radical Islamist terrorism. The fact that Democrats, like Senator Barbara Boxer, took the opportunity to indict the pro-life movement for this act of violence exposes the left’s supposed fear of a hostile response toward innocents in the wake of mass violence as a sham.
The most irresponsible contend that the GOP’s rumored “silence” over this shooting represents tacit consent, but that is a fabrication of a fevered imagination. A cursory review of the alacrity with which most presidential candidates reacted to the terroristic violence in Charleston, South Carolina in June, when a racist gunman killed nine parishioners at a historic African-American church, lays bare the selective outrage here. Within hours, most of the Democratic and Republican field had addressed the attack – one with clear motives and perpetrated by a shooter with a defined ideological persuasion. “I fear our intolerance of one another is the new battle ground of evil,” wrote Dr. Ben Carson. “Today many feel it is ok to hate someone who thinks differently than you do.” In a speech the following day, Senator Rand Paul called the act indicative of a “sickness in our country.” By contrast, the only Democrat to respond to the Charleston attack with a degree of passion that the press now demands of Republicans was Senator Bernie Sanders, who explicitly linked the assault to “racism.”
The difference between these two acts of mass violence is that one was clearly meant to terrorize while the other is still a bit murkier. There is no question that this event should be denounced with equal fervor from both Democrats and Republicans, but the remaining vagaries of the case require responsible American leaders to exercise caution rather than to indulge in garment-rending paroxysms. What Democrats and the press want from Republicans is the same thing they wanted from them in the wake of the arrest of Ahmed “clock boy” Mohamed. His arrest was supposedly an act of vicious racism on the part of his school’s administrators, and the left insisted their bias ratified before it could be disproven – as it later was – by subsequent investigation. Mohamed’s arrest made for a great hashtag, but the exposure of his device as a publicity stunt and subsequent flight to Qatar haven’t inspired many corrections from those who cited his case as an example of “Islamophobia.”
The atrocity in Colorado Springs is heartbreaking. It is not, however, Republicans but those demanding the abandonment of prudence for the fervidness of the moment who are leaving their politics exposed for all to see. Those desperately trying to link global Islamic terroristic militancy and the attack in Colorado are making fools of themselves, but more sober voices have also egregiously implied that caution when addressing this attack is tantamount to condoning it. That is a disgraceful lowering of the national political dialogue, and those who engaged in it should be ashamed.