Planned Parenthood, John Salvi III, and Conspiracy Theories

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With the recent videos being released about Planned Parenthood, there is serious moral questions to be asked of those who ‘fraudulently represented themselves,’ as described in the Texas Tribune article:

The anti-abortion group behind two undercover videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing fetal tissue donation visited one of the organization’s clinics in Houston, Planned Parenthood officials said Sunday.

Two people “fraudulently representing themselves” as research executives and providing fake California driver’s licenses toured the Planned Parenthood facility in April “under the guise of discussing tissue research with our clinic research staff,” said Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast spokeswoman Rochelle Tafolla.

“We suspect that they were secretly taping those conversations and those interactions in our building will be included in another of their highly edited and deceptive videos,” Tafolla said of the Center for Medical Progress.

The Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has said:

“The true abomination in all this is the institution of abortion,” Paxton told the committee. “Even the languages that they use — ‘product of conception’ — betrays a profound denial of humanity.”

Actually, I have to sternly disagree with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton about that, because we are all a product of conception. Children are ‘conceived’ through sexual intercourse, making every single human since the dawn of humanity a ‘product of conception.’ It doesn’t deny humanity what so ever, it’s a simple fact of being born.

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For the next portion I would like to tie this to John Salvi III (pictured above), whom killed clinic receptionists Lee Ann Nichols and Shannon Lowney in 1994, was noted for believing in dangerous conspiracy theories (in line with what these supposed recent videos suggest). He committed suicide in his prison cell in 1996:

While Salvi clearly shows signs of emotional disturbance, his view of himself as a crusader against an evil conspiracy is rooted in the small but militant wings of the Catholic and Protestant anti-abortion movements. Even though Salvi has been found guilty in the Brookline, Massachusetts clinic shootings that left two women dead and several persons injured, it is still difficult for many people to see the political side of the Salvi case. There is still a widespread lack of knowledge about the beliefs of the right wing conspiracist subculture-and there is still an attitude of denial that groups promoting conspiratorial worldviews have growing influence in our political system. This aspect of the Salvi case has not been adequately covered by the news media.

Before his arrest Salvi met with a Catholic priest and demanded to distribute lurid photographs of aborted fetuses, charging that the Catholic Church was not doing enough to stop abortions. He confronted his parish on Christmas Eve 1994 for failing to live up to his interpretation of the Catholic faith and its obligations. He quoted the Biblical book of Revelation; and told his parents of wanting to confront Satan. Shortly after his arrest he released a handwritten note alleging conspiracies of freemasons, conspiracies to manipulate paper currency, and conspiracies against Catholics. He told the court he supported the welfare state, Catholic labor unions, and opposed abortion. He has talked about the Vatican printing its own currency and a specific conspiracy of the Ku Klux Klan, the Freemasons, and the Mob. Far from being unique, all of these ideas appear in right-wing Catholic, Protestant, and secular political publications available in the Boston area.

Conspiracy theories range in their complexity, irrationality, and degree of bigotry. They are spread in a mild form by the John Birch Society-primarily through its magazine The New American; and in a more virulent racist and anti-Semitic form by the Liberty Lobby-primarily through its newspaper, The Spotlight, but also through a syndicated radio program, Radio Free America. Other leading purveyors of conspiracy theories include the Lyndon LaRouche network and a number of right-wing Christian groups. The whole spectrum of conspiracist allegations can be found on computer networks including the Internet, on radio and TV talk shows, on short-wave radio, through fax networks, and in hundreds of small books, pamphlets, and flyers available through the mail.

Magazines found in Salvi’s residence included The New American and The Fatima Crusader, both published by right-wing groups promoting conspiracist theories and vociferously opposing abortion and homosexuality. Allegations of a freemason conspiracy are contained in a book sold by Human Life International, a right-wing Catholic anti-abortion group that prints the photographs of fetuses Salvi distributed prior to his arrest. One Catholic right newspaper that promotes the Freemason conspiracy theory is The Michael Journal, published in Canada but distributed in the Boston area. The specific allegation of a conspiracy linking the Ku Klux Klan, the Freemasons, and the Mob is made in publications of the Lyndon LaRouche network. No one can claim to know the specific source of Salvi’s ideas, but at some point Salvi clearly intersected with persons who guided him to material from right-wing groups opposing abortion. One does not find issues of The New American or The Fatima Crusader, or material from Human Life International, at the corner newsstand. They are circulated in a distinct right-wing subculture.

The idea that a conspiracy of Freemasons controls the economy through the manipulation of paper money is based on conspiracy theories originally spread in the 1700’s and 1800’s. Salvi’s Freemason theory is one current variation of these earlier theories, and persons who embrace this theory often point to Masonic symbols on the dollar bill as evidence of the conspiracy. The basic premise of this worldview is that a conspiracy of secret wealthy elites controls the US. Variations on these themes include overtly bigoted theories concerning Jews, theories of a secular humanist conspiracy of liberals to take God out of society, One World Global Government theories, and many others. Symptoms of the corrosive nature of this alleged conspiracy are seen variously as abortion, homosexuality, the feminist movement, sex education, Outcomes Based Education, the environmental movement, and various others.

The freemason conspiracy theory is spread by persons who have real clout in the political arena. Pat Robertson is a leading conservative evangelical whose Christian Coalition is credited with helping elect many Republican US senators and representatives. Robertson promotes the freemason conspiracy theory and other forms of conspiracism in his books and on his TV program, “The 700 Club,” which is seen daily in the Boston area on the cable Family Channel. Robertson’s book The New World Order, published in 1992, is filled with right-wing conspiracist lore, much of it laced with references to Jewish bankers that contain, at the least, echoes of anti-Semitism. Some of the cites in Robertson’s book trace back to notoriously antisemitic sources. Discussions of freemason and other scapegoating conspiracies appear throughout Robertson’s book and will be discussed in detail later.

Salvi discussed his interest in the militia movement, the armed wing of the larger patriot movement, where conspiracy theories flourish. According to an article by Sarah Tippit of Reuters:

“While living in Florida in 1992, Salvi talked to a friend about joining a militia and once expressed interest in a particular camping trip with a militia from the Everglades, said his former employer, Mark Roberts of Naples, Florida. ‘Salvi had mentioned being affiliated with some bivouac thing in the Everglades. They were camping and he wanted to go,’ said Roberts, who employed Salvi for maintenance work. Shortly before moving to New England in 1992, Salvi stopped at Roberts’ house and showed his gun. He had sawed off its barrel and installed a silencer, Roberts said. ‘He said he was going to shoot cans in the woods, but he didn’t want to make any noise,’ Roberts said. ‘That worried me.'”

A major element of many conspiracy theories, including those circulated by the militias, is that the country is composed of two types of persons: parasites and producers. The parasites are at the top and the bottom, with the producers being the hard-working average citizen in the middle. This is the theory of right-wing populism. The parasites at the top are seen as lazy and corrupt government officials in league with wealthy elites who control banking and manipulate paper currency. The parasites at the bottom are the lazy and shiftless who do not deserve the assistance they receive from society. Salvi echoes this scapegoating refrain when he complains about persons on welfare. In the current political scene this dichotomy between parasites and producers takes on elements of racism because the people at the bottom who are seen as parasites are usually viewed as people of color, primarily Black and Hispanic, even though most persons who receive government assistance are White. Jews are frequently scapegoated as being part of the parasitic elite at the top.

That some persons who choose to act violently against the named scapegoats are also suffering from some form of emotional distress or mental illness does not negate the fact that they were groomed by a scapegoating social movement. Clinic violence is not the only result. In recent years there has been a disturbing number of threats and attacks against not only abortion providers, but also environmental activists, gays and lesbians, Jews, and even feminists. The scapegoating of welfare mothers and immigrants of color could also lead to similar acts of intimidation and injury. The pattern of violence against environmental activists has been chronicled in David Helvarg’s War Against the Greens, published by the Sierra Club.

In some cases scapegoating conspiracy theories are adopted by persons who believe we are in the Biblical “End Times” described in prophesies in the book of Revelations as a time when there will be literal confrontations pitting true Christians against Satan and the Antichrist. The idea that we are in the End Times is growing in right-wing Christian evangelical circles. While predominantly a Protestant phenomenon, there are small groups of orthodox and charismatic Catholics that also are embracing End Times theology. Like Salvi, they point to the book of Revelations and discuss actual struggles with Satan and the antichrist. These views are hardly marginal on the Christian right. End Times themes have appeared on Pat Robertson’s the “700 Club.” Just after Christmas 1994, the program carried a feature on new dollar bill designs being discussed to combat counterfeiting. The newscaster then cited Revelations 13 and suggested that if the Treasury Department put new codes on paper money it might be the Mark of the Beast.

In recent years, the most militant anti-abortion groups such as Operation Rescue have been influenced by the theology of Christian Reconstructionism, or dominion theology, which argues that true Christians must physically confront secular and sinful society and return it to God. Though predominantly composed of right-wing Protestants, a similar movement among doctrinaire Catholics has emerged. The trajectory of Philip Lawler from the editorship of the Boston Archdiocesian publication The Pilot, to the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights to Operation Rescue is one example of this drift toward militancy. In the spring of 1994, Salvi joined with 300 anti-abortion demonstrators outside the Planned Parenthood clinic in Brookline, Massachusetts where pamphlets were circulated that cited Operation Rescue as claiming that 18,000 abortions were performed annually at the facility.

The two main sectors of the US right that share a substantial degree of scapegoating conspiracism in their core ideology are the nativist right with its populist America First orientation; and the new Christian right, based primarily on Protestant evangelicalism but incorporating a growing segment of right-wing Catholics. Many in the new Christian right are in fact theocrats, in that they desire a government run by men seen as carrying out God’s will.

Both the theocratic right and nativist right have supporters and leaders that emerge from the Catholic right, and who have formed coalitions with the Protestant right and secular right over issues of morality and economic policy. Examples of leaders emerging from the Catholic right would be nativist Pat Buchanan, currently a presidential candidate running in the Republican primaries; and Paul Weyrich, a leading Catholic right figure with significant influence in the Republican Party. Weyrich’s main base of operations is the Free Congress Foundation (FCF) in Washington, DC which he founded and still leads. Weyrich commissioned a FCF study titled “The Homosexual Agenda” written by Fr. Enrique Rueda, another Catholic right ideologue, that alleged a vast conspiracy of homosexuals to infiltrate government agencies. Rightwing Catholic activism, however, is a relatively small phenomenon. According to Catholics for Free Choice, “Only a tiny fraction of US Catholics-less than 200,000 people out of a diverse community of more than 50 million-have deliberately and consciously aligned themselves with Catholic organizations on the ‘religious right.’

Certainly a person like John Salvi does not represent the mainstream of Catholicism, the anti-abortion movement, or the US political right, but he expresses the views of a durable subculture with conspiracist views that target scapegoats. Scapegoats can be injured or killed by persons-no matter what their mental state-who act out their conspiratorial beliefs in a zealous manner. The failure of political and religious leaders to take strong public stands against groups and individuals that demagogicly spread scapegoating conspiracist theories encourages this dangerous dynamic.

Massachusetts became the 9th state to investigate Planned Parenthood after the release of the videos. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has said the following:

“Over the past week, my office has conducted a thorough review and found that Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts’ health care centers are fully compliant with state and federal laws regarding the disposition of fetal tissue,” Healey said in a release. “Although donation of fetal tissue is permissible under state and federal law, (Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts) does not have a tissue donation program.”

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The Timing of the Videos

The timing of the release of these videos couldn’t be more intentional. We are currently in a major Presidential cycle, with at least two Republican Presidential candidates from Texas, Rick Perry and Ted Cruz, making this an insidious political stunt against major Democratic candidates nationally, including in several US Senate races in 34 states (Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin) to attempt to make anti-choice activists continue to rally even more against the 2.7 million American men and women who utilize their services in a safe, and secure environment to receive health care services that are provided by these institutions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already called on the defunding of Planned Parenthood (an issue he has apparently waffled on), while House Speaker John Boehner has called for an investigation for the “facts first” before calling on it to be defunded, while 18 House Republicans have called for a government shutdown if Planned Parenthood isn’t defunded. None-the-less, these videos were released to purposely intended to create a public outcry against Planned Parenthood, to mainly target women who may chose to get an abortion (for whatever reason) during the current election cycle.

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Deepest Concerns

Violence against these institutions is pervasive, as seen above, John Salvi III is merely a single example of this, but far from a lone person in committing such acts. It’s not that different from terrorism. Already, news reports have predicted violence against Planned Parenthood, and those connected with it. I’m deeply concerned that the release of these videos will lead to people getting murdered, particularly women. Weaving this into a connotation that this is a conspiracy is precisely what lead Salvi to murder innocent people. I don’t want to see that again.

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2 thoughts on “Planned Parenthood, John Salvi III, and Conspiracy Theories

  1. Pingback: On The Skulls | The Progressive Democrat

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