Who is to blame for the tragedy in Colorado?

Police take Robert L. Dear, 57, into custody near a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo., after three people were killed and nine wounded in an attack.
Police take Robert L. Dear, 57, into custody near a Planned Parenthood clinic Friday in Colorado Springs, Colo., after three people were killed and nine wounded in an attack. The Associated Press

Days after a series of anti-Planned Parenthood smear videos were released this summer, someone tried to set fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Illinois.

The attempt was a footnote at the time. No one was injured. The expectation was that, with cooler heads and more information, both the smear and the potential for violence would fade.

They didn’t. Months passed before Planned Parenthood was able to refute the video’s assertion that it was illegally selling fetal tissue for research. In the meantime, the activist behind the campaign, a twentysomething Californian named David Daleiden, kept posting footage and insisting it was damning, and conservative politicians kept amplifying his bogus claims.

Responsible pro-life voices could have stepped up at any time and embraced facts and reason. But the opportunity for exploitation was just too tempting. The Republicans who control Congress launched hearings upon hearings, investigations upon investigations, perpetuating the rage and misinformation. Red state lawmakers conducted their own probes, even where Planned Parenthood doesn’t perform abortions.

Sure enough, on Aug. 1, someone set fire to a car outside a Planned Parenthood construction site in New Orleans. September saw two more arson attacks, one at a Planned Parenthood in rural Washington and the other at a Planned Parenthood in Southern California. In October, someone took a hatchet to a New Hampshire Planned Parenthood, smashing computers, plumbing fixtures and medical equipment.

Concerns about violence mounted, but conservatives kept the ball rolling. Here were House Republicans, browbeating the head of Planned Parenthood so furiously that she couldn’t get a word in to answer their questions. Here was GOP candidate Carly Fiorina, spending presidential debate time detailing grisly scenes from the videos that hadn’t even happened.

Here was White House contender Ben Carson, claiming that the founder of Planned Parenthood was a racist, and his rival Mike Huckabee, calling the organization “butchers” who should not only lose their federal funding, but be criminally prosecuted.

Which brings us to Friday’s carnage in Colorado. Three dead. Nine wounded. A mentally disturbed man muttering “no more baby parts” after barricading himself inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic with propane tanks and an assault-style rifle.

It was terrifying. It was tragic. And it was a kind of “domestic terrorism,” as Planned Parenthood officials have asserted.

But no one with a straight face can call it a surprise.

What happened in Colorado Springs is the sort of thing that has happened for generations when supposedly serious people play to the public’s basest political instincts. In the decades since abortion was made legal in this country, unhinged people whipped up by anti-abortion extremism have committed eight murders, not counting Colorado, attempted at least 17 others and staged hundreds of potentially lethal clinic arsons, bombings and other attacks.

David Daleiden and the ideologues who underwrote him and the politicians who egged him on and exploited his propaganda knew what their distortion and venom might do to the least stable in their cohort. They never once paused or considered the potential consequences of their actions.

This isn’t normal,” President Barack Obama said in the aftermath of Colorado Springs, and it isn’t. What happened Friday is the product of a nation addicted to guns and of supposedly pro-life leaders who, this summer, lost either their voice or their moral compass.

A 57-year-old drifter named Robert L. Dear Jr. may have pulled the trigger, but, if convicted, he won’t be the only one with blood on his hands.