Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz is the latest presidential candidate trying to downplay the role anti-abortion rhetoric may have played in motivating the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs Friday afternoon. When a reporter asked him at an Iowa campaign stop Sunday evening about suspect Robert Lewis Dear saying he was motivated by “no more baby parts,” Cruz countered that he’s also been reported to be a “transgendered [sic] leftist activist.”
Cruz explained, “We know that he was a man registered to vote as a woman.” This discrepancy on Dear’s voter registration was first reported by The Gateway Pundit, a self-described “right-of-center news website,” under the claim that he “identifies as [a] woman.” Conservatives have since run with the claim that Dear is transgender.
There is actually no evidence to suggest that he is transgender, nor a “leftist,” nor any kind of activist. In fact, all of the available information suggests he was none of those things.
As the New York Times explained, Dear was very much a recluse, the type “that preferred to be left alone,” living in various single-wide trailers and cabins since his divorce in 2000. Neighbors did not know him well, and if they did, it’s because he would lash out at them when they tried to interfere with his business, like reporting him for mistreating his dogs.
The Times’ profile also identifies him as “generally conservative,” having been raised as a Baptist, but as someone who did not discuss politics much. According to his ex-wife, “he believed wholeheartedly in the Bible” and believed that abortion was wrong. He also distributed pamphlets criticizing President Obama to his neighbors in Colorado. On the voter registration form with the gender discrepancy, his party is listed as “UAF,” meaning unaffliated.
None of the people interviewed about Dear had anything to say about his gender identity. Nothing about his appearance nor any past reports of his identity suggests that he identifies as a woman. The voter registration form identifying him as female is the only discrepancy, making it most likely a typo and nothing more.
But since before the shooting was even resolved on Friday, conservatives have been clinging to such discrepancies in an attempt to suggest that it had little to do with the issue of abortion. When a witness called MSNBC Friday afternoon and indicated that the shooting had come from the direction of the Chase bank, a building that was between her location and the Planned Parenthood, conservatives invented an entirely new narrative claiming that the incident was a bank robbery gone wrong and that the shooter had simply hidden in the Planned Parenthood when he was unable to get away. Colorado Springs police debunked this story before the situation was over, clarifying that he had not entered any other buildings at any point.
Dear’s reference to “baby parts” clearly refers to deceptively edited videos suggesting that Planned Parenthood was selling parts of aborted fetuses for a profit. The claims were quickly debunked; in fact, the cut footage from one of the surreptitiously recorded videos even shows the targeted doctor saying, “Nobody should be ‘selling’ tissue. That’s just not the goal here.” The myth, nevertheless, has persisted.
Other Republican presidential candidates have similarly tried to distance the shooting from anti-abortion rhetoric. Both Mike Huckabee and Donald Trump downplayed the connection Sunday, with Huckabee calling it “disingenuous” to suggest that people who are anti-choice would “retaliate by sending some mad man into a clinic to kill people.” Carly Fiorina went further, suggesting that it was a “typical left-wing tactic” to attempt to “immediately demonize the messenger because they don’t agree with the message.”
Cruz’s claim that Dear is transgender mirrors other attempts by conservatives to demonize transgender people. As was most recently seen in the successful effort to defeat Houston’s LGBT nondiscrimination protections, conservatives eagerly spread the myth that transgender people are somehow “dangerous” to women and children. Cruz’s implication that being transgender motivated Dear’s attack relies on the same myth. Transgender people have done nothing to earn such labels — indeed, transgender protections have taken effect across the country with zero impact on the safety of women and children.
Cruz campaign spokesman Rick Tyler clarified of the candidate's remarks, "He was making the point that there isn’t enough information. You can’t expect a full response to a story that’s developing. The point was there’s a lot of raw information going around that’s not confirmed.
The campaign also explained that Cruz received his information from "The Right Scoop," which similarly used the voter registration form to ask, "WAS THE COLORADO SHOOTER A TRANSGENDER PERSON?!?!"