As investigators scramble to make sense of last week’s tragic mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, new details have emerged about the possible motivations of the alleged gunman: namely, that his actions may have been inspired not only by politics, but also a warped understanding of the Christian faith.
After the accused gunman Robert Lewis Dear was apprehended last Friday for allegedly killing three people and wounding nine others, Dear reportedly used the phrase “no more baby parts” while explaining himself to law enforcement officials. The use of the phrase — a direct reference to the widely discredited claim that Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal tissue — triggered a national conversation about Dear’s political influences. Some argue his actions could be a byproduct of conservatives who use misleading videos and hyperbolic rhetoric to defame the national women’s health provider.
But while some famous conservatives such Mike Huckabee were eventually willing to call the massacre a case of “domestic terrorism,” many on social media demanded that right-wing politicians refer to Dear as a “Christian terrorist.” They noted that it is hypocritical for GOP presidential candidates such as Marco Rubio to mock President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for not using the phrase “Islamic terrorism” when discussing militant groups such as ISIS, but avoid ascribing the same standard to terrorists who cite Christianity as their inspiration.
There initially wasn’t enough information to gauge Dear’s connection to the Christian faith. But on Tuesday, new information came to light that appears to link Dear to well known right-wing extremist movements that claim to be Christian.
The first came from the New York Times:
One person who spoke with [Dear] extensively about his religious views said Mr. Dear, who is 57, had praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work.” In 2009, said the person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for the privacy of the family, Mr. Dear described as “heroes” members of the Army of God, a loosely organized group of anti-abortion extremists that has claimed responsibility for a number of killings and bombings.
The Times reporter also interviewed a close relative of Dear’s Colorado girlfriend Stephanie Bragg, who said the couple were “very religious, read the Bible often and are always talking about scripture.” The two reportedly lived in a trailer marked with a small cross, and that Bragg couldn’t believe Dear was “capable of such things.”
Nevertheless, Bragg told the relative she had a theory as to what drove her boyfriend to murder several people in cold blood: “He believed he was doing God’s will, and I’m sure he probably wanted to die in the process of carrying out what I’m sure he thought was right.”
Another report from the Charleston Post and Courier claimed that Dear was obsessed with an interpretation of the Christian apocalypse, and used dark, bizarre theology to justify disturbing acts of domestic violence against his ex wife.
“He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Mescher, Dear’s ex-wife, reportedly stated in an affidavit when she filed for divorce. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.”
If true, Dear would appear to share the ideological leanings of so-called “Christian terrorists,” specifically participants in the “Christian identity movement” that have terrorized abortion providers for years. Dear’s supposed adoration for the Army of God, if true, is particularly telling: Members of the Army of God have long used the Bible to justify bombings at abortion clinics, attacks on gay and lesbian nightclubs, and even the infamous explosion at the Olympic village during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.
Although conservative news outlets such as the National Review have already published articles dismissing the influence of such groups as “overhyped,” right-wing terrorist organizations — some of which claim to be Christian, some of which claim other affiliations such as Odinism or no religious identity — have killed more Americans since September 11, 2001 than groups who claim to be Islamic. Hate-based organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, which use a burning cross as their symbol, remain active throughout the country, and white supremacists continue to commit heinous acts: earlier this year, avowed white supremacist and Confederate flag waver Dylann Roof murdered 9 African American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.
In fact, exactly one year to the day before the shooting in Colorado Springs, a man believed to be affiliated with the “Phineas Priesthood” went on a shooting spree in Austin, Texas, firing more than 100 rounds throughout the city and attempting to burn down the Mexican consulate before he was shot dead by police. Like the Army of God, the Phineas Priesthood is a white supremacist affiliation that cites Christianity as justification for violently opposing interracial intercourse, racial integration, homosexuality, and abortion.
There is, of course, an argument to be made that the actions of Dear and other extremists who commit violence against abortion providers are not representative of Christianity. Just as Muslims all over the world constantly decry groups such as ISIS as unIslamic, so too do many Christians rebuke those who claim Jesus as their justification for violence.
Nevertheless, some Americans — especially conservative pundits and Republican presidential candidates — have repeatedly insisted that if a terrorist claims to be Muslim, they should be identified as such. By that (arguably problematic) standard, Dear would appear to be a clear example of a “Christian terrorist.”
This article was updated to include another quote from the New York Times profile on Dear.