As a dirty political trick, David Daleiden’s 2015 Planned Parenthood “sting” was an old standby. Armed with hidden cameras, the anti-abortion activist whipped up a mob frenzy by taping and strategically editing the words of unwitting doctors describing the use of aborted fetal tissue in medical research.
Daleiden’s underlying claim – that Planned Parenthood was illegally trafficking in dismembered babies – was far-right fake news, a lie and, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. But it galvanized true believers just as the nation’s culture wars, an industry unto themselves, seemed to be ebbing.
Planned Parenthood clinics were vandalized and firebombed. A Washington man went to prison for offering to pay for the killing of a Placerville biotech executive whose firm was targeted in the recordings. In Colorado, three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic by a gunman raving about “baby parts.”
We don’t want a precedent that chills the truth, but this case weaponized scientific trust and distorted information.
Pandering red state politicians have since unleashed countless state and congressional hearings and investigations, seeking to deprive Planned Parenthood of its federal funding. No wrongdoing by the nonprofit has been proved.
Daleiden, on the other hand, taped more than a dozen private conversations without permission of both parties in his zeal to cast a perfectly legal and potentially lifesaving scientific practice as criminal behavior. That’s a violation of California law.
So this week, acting on a case initiated by his predecessor, now-Sen. Kamala Harris, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra filed 15 felony charges against Daleiden and an accomplice. Those charges are political, too, as reflective of this state’s pro-choice priorities as conservative crackdowns elsewhere on, say, animal rights activists who target factory farmers.
But Becerra has good cause. Similar charges in Texas had to be dropped because of a technical overreach by a grand jury, and people have died because of Daleiden’s hit job. We don’t want a precedent that chills the truth, but this case weaponized scientific trust and distorted information.
A court will decide whether or not it was right to throw the book at Daleiden. Either way, though, his next step also is in the political playbook – now he can claim martyrdom.