Planned Parenthood and the Reality of Domestic Terrorism

On October 21st, a juvenile man was arrested for the premeditated attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Hampshire. According to the Associated Press, “an intruder used a hatchet to destroy computers, plumbing fixtures, phones and medical equipment” (AP, 2015). This attack is by no means isolated. This has been the fifth attack on Planned Parenthood clinics since July.

When the Police Chief, Alexander Scott, made a public statement about the incident, he remarked that there was a significant amount of damage dealt by the unnamed juvenile. Similarly, the governor of New Hampshire, Maggie Hanson issued a statement after the attack declaring that “these acts of vandalism are an attack on the fundamental rights of women to access health care, and should be strongly condemned by all” (Carter, 2015). In both cases, officials shied from labeling this incident as domestic terrorism.

Both Scott and Hanson fail to address that these five attacks, which have mushroomed ever since the GOP decided to wage a battle against funding the clinics in July, have been spurred by several sensationalized anti-Planned Parenthood videos, one of which shows two medical practitioners nonchalantly discussing over lunch the practice of extracting fetal tissue from aborted fetuses and selling their organs for profit.[1] [sJ2]  David. S. Cohen, a tenure law professor from Drexel University and “expert in anti-abortion terrorism” was quoted in Hatewatch and explained how “since the release of the videos, people as a whole have increased their support for Planned Parenthood. But as “Republicans have gone on the attack …there is a small contingent of anti-abortion terrorists who are seizing on this moment to further target clinics and providers” (Morlin, 2015).

This video was released by The Center for Medical Progress, a historically anti-abortion group, who, in collusion with right-wing GOP senators and anti-abortion groups, have created an anti-planned parenthood campaign that calls to defund the organization that not only helps women who seek abortions but also those who seek Pap smears, STD testing, contraception, cancer  screening, pregnancy tests and family services, provided to them at little to no cost. Despite widespread criticism of the video’s authenticity, waves of orchestrated protest erupted last August as “thousands of anti-abortion protestors demonstrated in front of [over 300] Planned Parenthood clinics throughout the nation” (Hellerstein, 2015). Furthermore, inflammatory remarks were made by Republicans like Mike Huckabee and Carly Fiorina who mistakenly fell for the video. Huckabee stated in a live Fox News debate that Planned Parenthood clinics "[rip] up [body] parts and sell them like they're parts to a Buick” (Polman, 2015).

I should mention that the GOP has a long history of anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric and moral shaming. Redden, a contributing columnist for Mother Jones, writes in an article that “history shows that anti-abortion lawmakers don't need damning videos to mount attacks on Planned Parenthood. A look back at these older attempts to defund Planned Parenthood shows that today's onslaught is part of a broader, three-decade-old campaign by anti-abortion lawmakers to jeopardize family planning dollars” (Redden, 2015). On August 4th, GOP senators attempted to pass legislation in Congress that would defund the organization, yet the measure failed to gain sufficient votes to pass.  This is not the first time that Republicans have aimed to slash federal funding. Redden points out that in 1979 the “legislature of Minnesota passed a sweeping law” that threatened to terminate all state funding to Planned Parenthood facilities who offered abortions or even abortion counseling (Redden, 2015). In 1984, the Regan administration implemented a policy that prohibited “any foreign funding from going to health care providers who perform abortions”, this was known as the “gag rule” (Redden, 2015). In 1989 a California governor reduced family planning funding from $362 million to $12.1 million (Redden, 2015). When Bill Clinton became president in 1993 he stripped the “gag rule” but the policy was soon legally reinstated by George Bush in 2001 (Redden, 2015). The list goes on and on. These past legislations and policies point to a larger trend within the GOP: one that aims to destroy federal funding due to the “morally outrageous” medical practice of assisted abortions that are facilitated by Planned Parenthood.

These attacks, in the past four months, have included attempts of arson in California, Washington, and New Orleans and now the use of a hatchet in New England, and by all discernible means[3], they have been politically motivated as a strategy to prevent these clinics from functioning and to scare people away from using their services. Nonetheless, major media outlets like MSNBC and CNN news have reported minimally on these cases of violence and described them as just “attacks” or “breaking and entering”, and the perpetrators as only “arsonists.” Again: no mention of domestic terrorism.

In print media, the attacks have been barely mentioned. Media Matters posted an article recently describing how “national print media has remained largely silent on attacks” as the Washington Post and New York Times devoted only a few dismissive paragraphs to the subsequent arson attacks in California and Washington state (Calvert and Kittle, 2015).

I reckon that if any of the perpetrators were to be identified and were recognized to be of Muslim background or faith then these same outlets would describe the attacks under the banner of domestic terrorism, and would cause greater public uproar. In fact, the paradox becomes apparent when considering the May 2007 arrest of three Czechian brothers for conspiring to attack the military base of Fort Dix in New Jersey. In an article for The Intercept, Murtaza Hussein and Ryan Gallayini write that “[o]ver 100 officers and agents were involved in what at the time was one of the most high-profile counterterrorism arrests in the post-9/11 era” (Hussain and Ghalayini, 2015). The three brothers, with their parents, had emigrated to the U.S. from Yugoslavia in hopes for a better life. After the headlines of the arrest came out, in which the Duka brothers where sensationally depicted as “The Fort Dix Five”, information surfaced that the FBI had paid informants for a year to try and convert the Muslims brothers into extremists and “enlist them as terrorists” (Hussain and Ghalayini, 2015). According to the article, the brothers had never been introduced by the informants about the terror plot to bomb Fort Dix, yet were arrested unfairly because they were Muslim and because their case, which is by no means isolated, fit the anti-Muslim narrative that the U.S. government continues to stand by (Hussain and Ghalayini, 2015).

Then there is the case of the Newburgh Four who in 2010 were convicted of a terrorist plot to “shoot stinger missiles at military planes at an Air National Guard base in Newburgh, NY., and blow up synagogues in the Bronx” (Weiser, 2013). All four men were of Muslim background and were recruited by an undercover FBI informant who was posed as a radical Pakistani terrorist (Weiser, 2013). The objective of the sting operation was to radicalize these four men, who had no prior history of violence, and to frame and try them with attempting to bomb two synagogues in upstate New York. It seems quite clear, in both cases, that had the FBI not used “psychological coercion” and money as an incentive to entrap these men, then they would have most likely never been disposed to commit such terrorist acts (Weiser, 2013).

Post 9/11, the idea of terrorism has been and will probably continue to be, at least for a while, a term used exclusively to describe Muslims. The FBI defines domestic terrorism as any activities that: “involve dangerous acts to human life that violate state or federal 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.” Under this definition, it is more than clear that the five Planned Parenthood clinic attacks are indeed terrorist attacks under FBI standards, as the goal of the individual perpetrators of these attacks was to destroy these clinics and to scare people away from using them to pursue their political ends. Nonetheless, the main stream media, as well as the government, has been reluctant to label these attacks as terrorism, quite likely because the perpetrators have not been identified as Muslim.

Take, for instance, the suspects of the Fort Dix Five and the Newburgh Four. They were Muslim and they were prosecuted, tried and successfully convicted under terrorism charges and were immediately branded as terrorists by both the government and media, for the alleged attacks that we now know were planned and orchestrated by the FBI. Writing for the Guardian in the midst of the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, Glenn Greenwald pointed out the contrast between the depictions of the Boston Marathon bombers and the shooters of Columbine and the movie theater in Aurora. Even though both shootings killed far more people than the Boston bombing, Greenwald points out, “ the word ‘terrorism’ was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes” (Greenwald,2013).

Given all of this - the post 9/11 media culture and the unfair prosecution of Muslims perpetrated by U.S. government agencies such as the FBI – it is not unreasonable to suggest that like the shooters of Columbine and Aurora, the perpetrators of the Planned Parenthood attacks, when and if identified, will most likely only be labelled and tried as terrorists on the off chance that they are Muslim.

Senator Diane Feinstein was quoted saying that “the toxic rhetoric directed at planned parenthood has dangerous consequences…it sends the signal that using violence to close clinics and intimidate healthcare professionals and women is ‘OK’. It is not” (Morlin, 2015). And she is right. These attacks are a direct attack against a women’s bodily agency and her right to seek medical care. Yet, in an article by Allegra Kirkland, she states that despite the videos being a hoax “ Congressional Republicans have called for the federal government to pull all funding for Planned Parenthood, and the House has opened no less than four investigations into the organization” ( Kirland, 2015). These attacks will continue to occur in the United States if the mainstream media continues to underreport these events and fails to recognize that these attacks are indeed domestic terrorism and should be labeled as such. Yet, when members of Congress continue to “[invite anti-abortion extremist to testify at hearings”, even after the video came out as being a hoax,  and the Department of Justice fails to open up a “full investigation” of these attacks, then it makes me wonder what kind of message does this send to American women? (Kirland, 2015). It sends a message that women’s health is being violently attacked and that these attacks are deemed as permissible as the government has failed to take the appropriate steps to denounce the true nature of these attacks.  Kirland is able to grasp the failure of government institutions and media outlets when she says that “the media [must] report these incidents as what they are: domestic terrorism. By staying silent or failing to discuss this new wave of attacks on health clinics in the context of anti-abortion extremism, the media is giving extremists the cover to regressively and violently attack women, their access to health care, and the medical professionals who provide it” (Kirland, 2015). Ultimately, failure to define these attacks as terrorism not only serves to hide the violence that is being committed against women’s rights, and to a certain extent, to legitimize it, but also points to a systematic attempt to reserve the term “terrorism” almost exclusively for Muslims.