A shattered window, a makeshift bomb, and then a fire in California. A car set ablaze in New Orleans. A fire in Washington state. A hatchet attack in New Hampshire.
Just hours before a gunman staged an hours-long siege at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, over 140 public health and pro-choice groups sent a letter asking the Obama administration to investigate a surge in attacks and threats to abortion providers, arguing that the incidents were “not just acts of hatred and violence but acts of domestic terrorism.” The letter linked the violence to the series of heavily edited undercover videos regarding Planned Parenthood’s tissue-donation program that an anti-abortion group began releasing in July.
The escalation received scant attention, but now, with three people dead and nine wounded in Colorado, there’s a deeper resonance to calls for treating anti-abortion violence as a terror threat. “Unfortunately, we could have predicted this attack,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue, who joined other advocates on a call with reporters on Wednesday to explain why they’ve asked the Department of Justice to handle clinic violence as acts of terrorism. The attacks have been “politically motivated, narrow in target, but intended to scare a wide audience,” Hogue said. “Even though there is one man who pulled the trigger [in Colorado Springs], there is a network of actors that created the culture of hate and violence that led to it.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation defines domestic terrorism as acts “intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population” and “to influence policy of a government by intimidation or coercion.” The Colorado shooting, and clinic violence more generally, clearly matches that description, Hogue argued. Two-thirds of people polled recently said they thought clinic attacks were a form of terrorism. But domestic terrorism is not of itself a crime; ideologically motivated criminals like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh are typically charged with murder, use of a weapon of mass destruction, or hate crimes. Robert Dear, the alleged Colorado Springs gunman, faces first degree murder charges. Attorney General Loretta Lynch referred to the shooting as an “unconscionable attack,” and the Justice Department is still weighing the option to press federal charges.