Incendiary rhetoric can produce violent results

Accused Planned Parenthood shooter: "I am a warrior for the babies"
Accused Planned Parenthood shooter: "I am a warrior for the babies"

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Accused Planned Parenthood shooter: "I am a warrior for the babies" 02:01

Story highlights

  • The man who allegedly killed people at a Planned Parenthood clinic reportedly talked about "baby parts"
  • Sally Kohn: Those who spread lies about Planned Parenthood are morally implicated in such a heinous crime

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)The man who allegedly launched an armed assault at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado reportedly talked about "baby parts" to police. This appears to be a direct reference to a series of heavily edited videos used by anti-abortion extremists to suggest that Planned Parenthood profits off fetal tissue donation. This is a lie.

But right wing ideologues have continued to spread this lie despite the fact that the man who presumably believed in this falsehood went so far as to kill three people at the clinic. Shockingly, in the wake of the shooting, several Republican presidential candidates repeated the smear against Planned Parenthood.
We don't have full information about the shooter and his motives, but if what we know so far is accurate, those who spread this incendiary lie about Planned Parenthood are morally implicated in such a heinous crime.
    Here's a thought experiment. Imagine if I used this essay and powerful public platform to repeat a lie about a Christian church that I heard is plotting to kill gay people. And then someone burnt that church to the ground. Of course I would be morally guilty of helping to incite that crime — because I would be spreading intentionally provocative smears.
    Mind you, the right wing wouldn't hesitate for a second to blame me. They would be correct to do so. My irresponsible rhetoric would have produced inflammatory results. Of course, that wouldn't make me culpable in a court of law. But in every other sense of the word, I would shoulder a share of the blame.
    Many on the right have been far less judicious in their apportionment of blame. Take the example of protests against police brutality. Conservative writer Katie Pavlich said the Black Lives Matter movement "promotes the execution of police officers." "Their agenda is it's OK to go ahead and kill cops," said Fox News' Kimberly Guilfoyle.
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    Their comments seem to be based on (ironically enough) selective video footage showing some protesters at Black Lives Matter rallies chanting anti-police statements. Mind you, the right has previously argued that one person with a Confederate flag at a tea party rally doesn't mean the whole group is racist, though this was before tea party groups officially held rallies to defend the Confederate flag.
    But in the case of Black Lives Matter, the movement has gone to lengths to clearly distance itself from anti-police rhetoric. For instance, in the wake of several police shootings, Black Lives Matter released a statement, "We're targeting the brutal system of policing, not individual police." To continue to blame Black Lives Matter for any police death is not only inaccurate but also intentionally offensive. This hasn't seemed to stop the right from doing it.
    The right seems to think those who protest police abuse are implicated in violence against police. But those who deliberately spread lies about Planned Parenthood and then a shooter attacks and kills people presumably based on those false beliefs? Nah, no relation.
    There are even Republicans who claim that since the Colorado shooter identifies as a woman and because transgender people can't be conservatives (except for Caitlyn Jenner), the shooter is — as GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz said — a "transgendered [sic] leftist activist." Other right wing activists and anti-abortion groups are convinced the shooting was actually a botched bank robbery.
    Right wing ideologues should be aware that their extremist anti-abortion rhetoric had some influence on the Colorado shooter. But they're trying to shrug off blame by insisting the shooter was just a nut.
    Meanwhile, the media and the police seem to treat white male terrorists with kid gloves. See, for instance, the breathtaking assertion by The New York Times that the shooter was "a gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew."
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    Of course, the shooter was nuts. Normal people don't commit such violence with their mental faculties fully intact. But he can be a mentally unstable lunatic as well as a product of deliberately inflammatory anti-abortion extremism.
    Journalist Jessica Valenti notes there have been four arson attacks against abortion clinics since the release of the misleading anti-Planned Parenthood videos. On Twitter, @ClinicEscort documented over 100 cases of violence against abortion clinics. When an ideological movement spreads violent rhetoric, it can plead neither surprise nor innocence when its followers resort to violence.
    Since the misleading videos were released, threats to Planned Parenthood clinics have skyrocketed. In August, a federal judge blocked the release of further videos, citing the "history of violence" against abortion providers.
    As Republicans were conducting a sham of a congressional hearing against Planned Parenthood — after it had been cleared of wrongdoing by every state investigation following the videos — the FBI warned of an increased threat of "lone offenders using tactics of arsons and threats, all of which are typical of the pro-life extremist movement."
    Spread incendiary lies against Planned Parenthood and you're going to get horrible results. Anti-abortion extremists and right wing activists should do more than distance themselves from the violence. They should stop spreading heinous lies that help incite violence.