Society and Culture

Let’s Call the Planned Parenthood Attack What it Was: Domestic Terrorism

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On Friday, Robert Lewis Dear Jr. was taken into custody after attacking a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Three people–two civilians and one police officer–were killed and nine others were wounded. News outlets are reporting that Dear told the police who arrested him “no more baby parts,” presumably in reference to the heavily edited videos about Planned Parenthood released this summer by the Center for Medical Progress, but there are still a lot of questions about his exact motives. But despite the fact that there’s still plenty of questions, that shouldn’t stop us from labeling Dear’s actions for what they were: domestic terrorism.

That’s not to say that plenty of writers, journalists, commentators, and politicians haven’t called it domestic terrorism. Many have turned to the FBI’s definition of domestic terrorism to make their case, which is compelling. It reads:

‘Domestic terrorism’ means activities with the following three characteristics:

Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

But many others have stopped short of that designation, referring to Dear’s crimes as murder, or as Attorney General Loretta Lynch called it a, “crime against women receiving healthcare services at Planned Parenthood.” While “murder” and “crime” are correct, they whitewash the fact that Dear does appear to have had a political motive.

Because even if Dear does have serious mental health problems, he clearly went in with the intent of coercing either the government or Planned Parenthood in some way. I’m having a hard time buying the argument that he was just a crazy guy who randomly chose Planned Parenthood; that he wasn’t convinced by some political, social, or moral reason that his attack was justified. Perpetrators of attacks on this level, such as mass shooters, are rarely totally mentally stable, but that doesn’t keep them from being held accountable for their actions. Dear’s defense team could, of course, argue the insanity defense, but that is a very difficult burden to meet. In short, just because Dear may not have been all there doesn’t preclude him from being charged with domestic terrorism.

The DOJ is still looking into Dear’s actions and it looks likely that the agency will designate it as domestic terrorism. But the state of Colorado will be trying Dear first, and there’s no indication right now that it’s going to charge him with domestic terrorism. That’s a shame, and it’s wrong.

Now, some have called Dear a domestic terrorist, including presidential hopeful Governor Mike Huckabee. He stated:

What he did is domestic terrorism, and what he did is absolutely abominable, especially to us in the pro-life movement, because there’s nothing about any of us that would condone or in any way look the other way on something like this.

That’s a good first step, and recognizes that disagreeing with Planned Parenthood and condemning Dear’s actions for what they were aren’t mutually exclusive. Hopefully more presidential hopefuls will join Huckabee in correctly pinning Dear’s crime as domestic terrorism.

So, why is it so important that Dear’s crime be labeled as domestic terrorism? There’s a lot of reasons, including the double standard that happens in our society when we attribute terrorism almost exclusively to those of Middle Eastern descent, yet often focus on the “mental illnesses” of white perpetrators of terror. Additionally, as Huckabee implies, it’s possible to view Dear’s attack as domestic terrorism, while still disagreeing with Planned Parenthood and abortion. But if nothing else, this needs to be labeled as domestic terrorism, because Dear deserves to be indicted and tried for the crimes he committed, and absolutely nothing less.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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