White Terrorism, Planned Parenthood and a Call to Fight Back


White, conservative, extremist Christian terrorism killed three people at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last Friday, wounded several more, and indefinitely shut down the primary access to affordable healthcare for many women across Southern Colorado.

Terrorism can be difficult to define. But power dynamics often determine who’s labeled a terrorist and why. In a country founded on and still operating on a system of white supremacy then, it’s no surprise that white men are rarely labeled terrorists. But there’s no question that the attack on the only Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs last Friday was a terrorist attack.

“Being the conservative hub it is, women here have routinely had their lives threatened, or access limited. We went from three Planned Parenthoods to one. And now that one is closed indefinitely,” Patricia Cameron, an EMT, Black Lives Matter activist, and a friend who lives near Colorado Springs, told me via Facebook messages.

Terrorism is fueled by ideology, it intends to instill fear in those at-odds with said ideology, and that fear is meant to be a tool used to further political ends guided by its perverse ideology.

In this case, we have an ideology based on the rhetoric of ultraconservative Christianity. It’s created and reified based on lies and perversions of reality designed to rile up its proponents. Lies stemming from doctored videos, edited and disseminated to promote the fiction that Planned Parenthood profits off the sale of “baby parts.” And perversions of reality that suggest access to abortion is about murdering babies and not bodily autonomy. Accordingly, those who would have or provide abortions are baby murderers, heartless merchants, out to make money selling the body parts of slain babies.

This rhetoric isn’t just toxic, it’s deadly. People adhering to it have killed before and others will kill again. Indeed, since I drafted this another white terrorist in Colorado Springs was arrested after he threatened to kill survivors of Friday’s attack.

Jennifer Markovsky, 36, mother of two, was accompanying a friend to the clinic when she was killed

Jennifer Markovsky, 36, mother of two, was accompanying a friend to the Planned Parenthood clinic when she was killed

And the leaders of the hard right espousing such rhetoric have already demonstrated that they have no intention of toning it down.

Since the attack Ted Cruz suggested the terrorist who carried it out might be a “transgendered [sic]leftist activist.”

Carly Fiorina has unabashedly continued to push the thoroughly debunked lie that the Planned Parenthood terrorist apparently echoed to law enforcement after being taken into custody (unharmed), about Planned Parenthood profiting from “baby parts.” Fiorina went on to call the Planned Parenthood terrorist a protestor while directly comparing him to Black Lives Matter activists.

I’m not going to give each GOP presidential candidate space, but a theme among their responses is a distancing between the deadly rhetoric driving the ideology behind this terrorist attack, their rhetoric, and the violence of the attack itself. As well as repeated false equivalences to rhetoric on “both sides.”

But this is a one-way war. The so-called War on Christians is exemplified by the imaginary War on Christmas. Christianity is not under attack in the United States, women’s bodily autonomy and access to healthcare are.

Hearing someone say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is not the same as needing to walk past screaming men with signs accusing you of murder just to pick up your birth control—a routine occurrence outside of Planned Parenthoods across the country. And it’s not the same as knowing that once you get past that angry crowd you’ve just entered a building that is under such a material threat of a terrorist attack that some, like the one that was just destroyed in Colorado Springs, have security rooms equipped with bulletproof vests.

Those aren’t equivalent.

And nor is it the same when Black Lives Matter activists challenge ongoing State violence that disproportionately ends and impacts Black and brown lives.

Abortion is never murder. It is a choice that a woman makes about her body. It’s none of your fucking business.

On the alleged other hand, police routinely murder people. And if you live in a society that’s agreed to give the police the power to use such lethal force, when they do it is absolutely your business.

It’s important to note that the ideology fueling the terrorist attack on Colorado Springs’ Planned Parenthood isn’t singular or driven by one particular notion. It’s part of a web of white supremacist, sexist, ableist, racist, transphobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, and classist bigotry. (I’m sure that list is incomplete).

Cruz and Fiorina offer two examples of the interconnectivity of this web—anti-Blackness and transphobia. Rather than acknowledge the actual terrorism that just took place, the ideology fueling it (theirs!), and its specific whiteness, both GOP presidential candidates instead took the opportunity to reify the ideology motivating this terrorism in the first place, and to remind us of its bigoted links.

Ableism comes into play following acts of white terrorism as people rush to excuse the actions of these white killers by suggesting they’re “mentally ill.” What the diagnosis is, or if the person offering said diagnosis is at all qualified to do so is rendered irrelevant. What’s important is that this casual ableism demonizes people who have mental disabilities while simultaneously minimizing the vast network of media, think tanks, politicians, religious leaders, and other people and organizations fueling the ideology underlying white terrorism.

These aren’t isolated incidents or lone wolves.

So let’s be clear. The United States is living in an age of white terrorism. It’s time we acknowledge this and actively fight against it, lest we “let the terrorists win,” as they say. That message especially goes out to you, white readers. This. Is. Our. Problem. It’s time for us to get our people.

As I type about the broader milieu in which this attack took place, there are people—mostly lower income women—who rely on that Planned Parenthood and who no longer have access to its services. Sadly, this was one of the goals of the terrorist.

And while many, including yours truly, took to social media to note the disparity between a white man who shot 11 people and killed three being taken into custody alive, and the perpetually growing list of Black and brown men, women, and children killed in seemingly-less dangerous circumstances, Cameron has a different take.

planned parenthood, colorado springs

The now destroyed Planned Parenthood in Colodaro Springs

“That hours long standoff was his way of destroying the clinic. The man wasn’t taken alive because he was white, to be honest. He was taken alive because the intent was always to destroy the clinic. Once the armored truck rammed through the building that’s when he gave up. He didn’t want them to kill him, he shot just enough people to draw the necessary response, didn’t shoot a single hostage and made them retrieve him.”

Cameron added the disclaimer that he didn’t know that for sure, but it certainly strikes me as a plausible explanation.

Regardless, this is a vital reminder that the victims of this attack aren’t just those who were killed or wounded. It’s the people who are struggling right now to get the services Planned Parenthood provides. And they need more than our outrage.

The question then becomes, what can we do to reclaim what’s been lost, and to move from outrage to action. I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few suggestions.

First, let’s show our support for Planned Parenthood and for easy, safe, and affordable access to abortions. As Jessica Valenti put it, “While it’s true that Planned Parenthood offers a variety of services, I think it’s safe to say the attacker wasn’t there because he was angry about pap smears.”

This is an essential point. The stigmatization of abortion happens on the left and right. When the left defends Planned Parenthood by defensively noting that abortion services are low on the list of those offered, we are buying into the notion that abortion should be stigmatized, and consequently adding to this stigmatization.

We need to stand up for what’s being attacked, not to deflect by pointing to what isn’t.

Ke'Arre Stewart — a 29-year-old father-of-two, Iraq war veteran and victim of the attack on Planned Parenthood

Ke’Arre Stewart — a 29-year-old father-of-two, Iraq war veteran and victim of the attack on Planned Parenthood

I’m sitting here right now typing with my newborn next to me. She’s three weeks old. She’s the result of family planning. Were it not for Planned Parenthood and safe, affordable access to abortion services, my life would look very different right now and she wouldn’t exist.

Second, as mentioned, there are people in need of services they no longer have access to, or will have a much more difficult time accessing. This one is tricky. Privacy laws make coordinating help for these patients difficult. But local medical providers could easily announce that they’ll take on impacted patients at discounted rates (or for free). If you’re willing to do this you can contact me and I’ll help publicize your willingness so patients can reach out to you.

Along those same lines, if you’re not a local medical provider but live in the area and have one, you could give them a call and recommend they open their practice to help out.

Third, there are efforts underway to help coordinate rides to different Planned Parenthood locations. Again, this is difficult due to privacy laws and a myriad of other reasons. But if you’re able to and willing to help with this, contact me and I’ll try to put you in touch with the organizers working to get it done.

Fourth, you can find links to donate to the families of victims here, to donate and get involved with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains here, or to get involved with and donate to NARAL here.

Garrett Swasey was married with two children and was a co-pastor at Hope Chapel before being killed in the attack on Planned Parenthood

Garrett Swasey was married with two children and was a co-pastor at Hope Chapel before being killed in the attack on Planned Parenthood

Fifth, if you’re a local contractor or handyperson, consider reaching out to Planned Parenthood officials to offer your time, expertise, or resources to help rebuild the destroyed facility in Colorado Springs. While the investigation is ongoing and likely to last for awhile, once it’s done and the faster the lone Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs can be repaired and reopened, the better.

Sixth, get creative. There’s certainly more that can be done outside of this small list. Use your unique perspective, talents, platforms, networks, and knowledge to help however you can. Maybe that means taking a sign and standing outside the Planned Parenthood nearest to you to show support for those entering and exiting the building. Maybe it means having a conversation with a relative or friend about why it’s important that women have safe and affordable access to abortions and healthcare. Maybe it means organizing a demonstration to show support, like this one in my home town.

Even a simple note on social media can make a difference, as Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains noted.

“The outpouring of love on social media, the letters and emails are very important for our staff. People can volunteer and apply to volunteer through our website.”

I don’t know what your contribution should be. My point is simply that you can help. You just need to make the effort to do so.

About Author

Jesse Benn is an independent media studies scholar, a writer, and an activist journalist. He holds a Master of Arts in Journalism from the University of Colorado and is currently taking a year off before beginning a Ph.D program. When he isn’t taking to the streets or pushing for radical societal change elsewhere he’s hanging out with his new daughter. He can be reached at: JesseBenn@mail.com.