The Killer Who Inspired the Planned Parenthood Shooter

Another anti-abortion extremist inspired Robert Lewis Dear, who has admitted killing three and wounding nine inside a Planned Parenthood last November.

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

Newly unsealed court documents paint Robert Lewis Dear, the 57-year-old man charged with killing three and wounding nine inside a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic last November, as a man with a deep allegiance to anti-abortion extremists.

Once described as a “loner” and a “recluse” by The New York Times based on his physical living situation, Dear was, like most Americans, connected to the Internet, where he was anything but alone in his beliefs.

Shortly after his arrest, police confiscated a small laptop from his RV in Hartsel, Colorado. Search warrant applications released on Monday note that, during an interview with detectives, Dear “indicated that he utilized this computer and sent messages and posted things online in reference to his views against abortion and the Federal Government.”

One site in particular captured Dear’s interest: “the webpage of Paul Hill,” a man who murdered an abortion provider and his bodyguard in 1994. Dear reportedly told detectives that Hill was “somebody that he thought very highly of.”

The Web page of Paul Hill is operated by Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization that has claimed responsibility for several bombings and attacks on abortion providers. The “authorized” Army of God site for Hill, who was executed in 2003, claims that the murderer “was thoroughly involved in the creation of this website.” Dear later told detectives that he had “posted messages” to Hill’s page.

According to one search warrant application (PDF), detectives also found an outgoing December 2009 email on Dear’s computer addressed to his son containing a link to the Army of God website with the subject line “Hero.”

Dear’s admiration of Hill wasn’t just confined to virtual space, either. Dear’s girlfriend, who had been with him since 2009, told the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that he had “talked about Paul Hill after driving past an abortion clinic in North Carolina, as well as when he learned that Colorado Springs had an abortion clinic.”

Dear would later admit to killing a police officer and two civilians at that Colorado clinic, making 2015 the most murderous year in the history of anti-abortion violence since 1994, when Paul Hill committed his own multi-victim shooting.

In 1993, anti-abortion extremist Michael Griffin murdered abortion provider Dr. David Gunn in Pensacola, Florida. That murder prompted Hill, who was born in Miami and had worked as a Presbyterian minister for several years, to sign a “Defensive Action Statement,” which claimed that Griffin’s “use of lethal force was justifiable provided it was carried out for the purpose of defending the lives of unborn children.” Hill listed his affiliation as the director of “Defensive Action.”

As The Washington Post reported, Hill quickly fashioned himself into a spokesman for people who murdered abortion providers. After telling Phil Donahue on television that killing an abortion provider would be comparable to killing Adolf Hitler while claiming that he was “advocating the consistent theology of the Bible,” Hill was excommunicated.

At 7 a.m. the following July 29, Hill was protesting an abortion clinic called The Ladies Center in Pensacola, Florida, as he did every week. The Post report captured the details of that horrific morning. Abortion physician Dr. John Britton arrived for work in a bulletproof vest, accompanied by his bodyguard James Barrett and Barrett’s wife, June. As they parked, Hill fired into their car with a pump-action shotgun, sending “a spray of glass shards” through the interior of the vehicle.

Both Britton and James Barrett suffered head wounds and died. Only June survived. Hill cooperated with the patrolman who arrived at the scene, allowing himself to be handcuffed.

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Prison didn’t stop Hill from promulgating his extreme anti-abortion views. In one piece preserved on the Army of God’s website where Dear may have encountered it, Hill wrote that he hoped his Pensacola murders “would help to force people to decide whether they would join the battle in defense of abortionists or side with their intended victims.”

Dear also apparently subscribed to the notion that he was involved in a great battle. In his first court hearing last December, the admitted killer shouted, “I am a warrior for the babies!”

The rhetorical similarities between the two shooters do not end there. Before his 2003 execution, Hill said, “I expect a great reward in heaven. I am looking for glory. I don’t feel remorse.”

According to the new court documents, Dear expected much the same. Dear reportedly told one detective that “his dream was that when he died and went to heaven he would be met by all the aborted fetuses at the gates of heaven and they would thank him… for what he did because his actions saved lives of other unborn fetuses” (PDF).

While Hill seems to have been a longer-term idol for Dear, the alleged shooter also cited more recent anti-abortion extremism while in police custody.

Search warrant applications reveal that, after Dear was arrested, he told detectives that he had gone to the clinic because “he was upset with Planned Parenthood for performing abortions and the selling of baby parts” (PDF)—a reference to the false allegations that Planned Parenthood illegally sold fetal tissue for a profit.

This confirms a prior NBC report that Dear said “no more baby parts” after his arrest. David Daleiden’s undercover videos, which preceded a dramatic spike in anti-abortion violence, were spread on social media using the hashtag #PPSellsBabyParts.

Dear loudly declared himself “guilty” at a court hearing last year but he has not entered a plea. His competency hearing is scheduled for April 28.

In the meantime, Dear has succeeded in getting his own name added to the terrorist website he reportedly frequented before the November shooting. As The Daily Beast first reported in December, the Army of God front page added an acknowledgment of Dear’s Colorado Springs shooting shortly after it took place.

At present, the top of the Army of God home page quotes Dear’s claim that he is “a warrior for the babies” and adds, “In this case, Planned Parenthood’s selling of aborted baby parts came back at them.”

Apparently motivated in part by extremist anti-abortion literature on the Internet, Dear has now become a part of it. His name even appears above Paul Hill’s, which shows up further down the page in a list of “heroes” who supposedly “stood up for the unborn” by committing murder.

As anti-abortion violence increases and the FBI warns of possible attacks on reproductive health care providers, the risk of that list getting longer remains alarmingly high.