aNewDomain commentary — I moved here in 1991, and Colorado Springs has been my home ever since. For a few years I lived in Washington State for work. I took a pay cut to come back here.
There’s something about this town. It’s clean, diverse, orderly. There are pockets of poverty but no “bad” neighborhoods. The mountains are beautiful and inescapable, drawing me back here with their gravity. They’re just minutes away, beckoning, offering peace and cleanliness.
But Colorado Springs also happens to be the evangelical capital of the world. We have megachurches and overtly religious lobbying organizations (Focus on the Family being the largest) as well as covertly religious organizations (like all the military bases and especially the Air Force Academy, in which a certain brand of Christianity is definitely encouraged and maybe more than encouraged).
This is a very religious place.
Some people go to the moon and see Jesus when they look back at the Earth. Some people come and see the mountains and are deeply moved, so moved the effect is spiritual, and this experience tells them something of God. I’m one of these people in a way, not driven to religion or church but always feeling something is absent when Pikes Peak isn’t there to draw my gaze and tell me which way is north.
Others come here and feel moved but need an anchor for that movement, I guess.
This town and the surrounding rural voters are the reason we’re a purple kind of state. We’re the reason we get a lot of Republicans into office. And this place correspondingly has a lot to say about homosexuality. We toyed with some laws through the 1990s to limit the rights of openly gay people, allowing employers to fire them at will, to allow discrimination.
That stuff ultimately didn’t fly when run up the flagpole – we’re also very educated. Our evangelical population also work hard to limit abortion rights. Not as hard as Texas, because … well, education again. We’re a mixed bag, with a vocal evangelical minority who can’t always get their way. They get a petition going every election, though, to give citizenship rights to fetuses. The Personhood Amendment , we call it. Colorado voters go out in droves to vote it down every time.
All of that is preface for this: My town isn’t the place I remember.
Gun violence is starting to take a serious toll here. The state has problems, yeah. Columbine, Aurora. But we’ve had two mass shootings in a period of weeks, right here in town. As well as that church shooter a few years ago.
Things around here can get pretty polarized. We have a little section of town rumored to house more witches per capita than Salem – but this is just a neighborhood where non-Christian liberals tend to aggregate. It’s slow-food, dreadlock-wearing bike people who run a good-natured coffin-race once a year.
Even my supervisor at my internship site, a Franciscan nun, believed in ritual satanic abuse that could be uncovered through hypnosis, but this stuff is just the hard right being fearful of differences and raking up muck.
The AR-15-wielding killer of October was apparently motiveless. We’ve already about forgotten him. He killed some random people and sort of disappeared from our attention. We live in a place where this kind of horrifying violence isn’t even front-page news, nationally.
But our Planned Parenthood shooter, he had a motive.
When the standoff first got started, nobody knew what was happening. The news knew he was in a building that housed a Planned Parenthood, among several other things. But all they mentioned was that Planned Parenthood.
Now if you’re a citizen, just a person wondering what’s happening, your assumption that he was there because of some beliefs about abortions or those fake tapes making it seem that Planned Parenthood sells baby body parts for profit, well, you’re pretty justified. But if you’re the news, a cynical public is equally justified in wondering about the news’ motives.
In other words, we’re the evangelical capital of the world, in the middle of a political season full of lies and false accusations intended to inflame us.
And you know who profits more than anyone else from election season, from the unprecedented campaign spending? Of course it’s television stations.
Would they stoop so low as to sell us this bloodbath as a political crime, as part of the ongoing battle between women’s rights and pro-life?
Of course they would.
If you’re the media, your job is to report the facts, as absent any adjectives as possible. But our news is for-profit.
That’s part of the problem.
It will likely turn out to be true that this person’s motives had to do with abortions and with those doctored tapes. He seems to have mentioned them, after all. And it will also probably turn out that his sanity is questionable. But delusions don’t grow on trees. They grow out of the prevailing cultural milieu.
And in this milieu, Planned Parenthood exists for the purpose of murdering babies.
You know, I never heard a worse delusion in all my years working with psychotic patients. Not in their most florid moments.
Periodically, people try to blame mass shootings on video games, on music, or even on there not being enough guns in society. These are all spurious arguments or even specious ones. But in this case, there’s enough blame to go around.
What are we supposed to do with statements by Carly Fiorina when she claims to have personally seen video of a Planned Parenthood doctor threatening to vivisect a crying infant? If this were true, it would certainly amount to cause for alarm and condemnation. But it isn’t.
And Fiorina won’t move from this position.
What are we to do with Congressional hearings on the matter?
The GOP website says, “Recent undercover videos featuring senior level Planned Parenthood officials admitting unethical and potentially illegal procedures should be of great concern to every American. The practices described in these videos are despicable, and Planned Parenthood should be forced to defend their content. Three House Committees – Energy and Commerce, Judiciary, and Oversight – immediately launched an aggressive investigation of these videos. Learn more about the House’s ongoing work into the abhorrent practices of Planned Parenthood.”
They make no mention at all of the fact that these “undercover videos” were edited to make it seem as though something nefarious was happening. These tapes come from the same people who dressed as pimps and prostitutes in the 2012 cycle to accomplish the same thing: to rile people up, shift the argument away from real issues, disrupt Planned Parenthood in any way possible.
Now, Republican tacticians like to fill us with misinformation. Lobbyists pose as experts to debate Bill Nye on climate change, and right-wing websites crank out all sorts of crap that unsophisticated, right-leaning people readily believe.
Because we are so polarized and treat people with different ideas as enemies, it’s easy to do. A popular meme in the 2012 cycles was that mass shooters tend to be liberal. But the reverse is true. When political ideology is identifiable, religious and conservative extremists are at work, not leftist ones.
Gabby Giffords was shot by a conservative ideologue with obvious mental problems during a polarizing political season, for example. Even our New Life Church shooter wasn’t a left-wing propagandist but a rejected church member, a religious ideologue.
What’s going on in my town can be traced, has antecedents in, this virulent, unsophisticated, demonizing and polarizing season in which Planned Parenthood, a healthcare provider for women, has become an enemy.
Carly Fiorina, you own a piece of this pie.
Congressional Republicans, you own a bite, too. Conservative media, inciting people to hate, you own a big bite of this. Conservative media especially, but all news media for profit. Because they didn’t report the facts without equivocation, they made sure to mention Planned Parenthood as often as possible. Because we’re polarized, that’s what sells, and they can insinuate a conflict where none was yet demonstrable.
That’s not to say Republicans are evil. It’s not true. These are the kinds of generalizations that are exactly the problem. But these people in this time own a piece of the blame.
You know what? Fakesbook users own some, too. When I see comments like, “I hope the cops save us some tax money,” implying that they hope a potentially mentally ill man face summary justice … When I see, “I hope he gets the death penalty,” I have an idea what the problem is.
Here it is.
This man wants to kill people who use an abortion provider because they are killing innocent people (in his mind). Killing people for killing people is punishable, by the unsophisticated American public, by death. And so the cycle goes on and on, around and around.
When you spank a child for hitting, what is the child to learn? To not hit? Don’t be silly. To hit when no one is looking, or to hit if you’re bigger.
There’s no evidence that the death penalty reduces violent crime. All it can do is communicate a contempt for human life. And if that’s what you think, that murderers should die, you are the murderers. You own a big piece of this pie yourselves.
I still love my town. I hope people with a lot of religion can find their way through the easy answers there into difficult compassion. It’s hardest to find compassion and empathy for the people who have hurt you, easy to demonize and call for heads to roll.
But compassion and empathy are exactly what we need right now. The world is complex and becoming more complicated every day. Easy answers offer brief comfort, but lead us down this path of violence and despair.
I don’t want any more local stories about mass murderers.
I disagree with local church elders but I don’t want you to shoot them.
I’ve seen enough national reporters here to last me.
I just want to sit under the mountains, to engage with the natural beauty, the clean air, gorgeous skies and pillars of rock that look like the world was stretched like taffy, the opened up parts of the crust of the world that are a written history of the planet shown in sedimentary layers.
If you have an ideology you would kill or die for, please don’t come here. Just get yourself a hammock. Lay on your back at night and stare out into infinity. Contemplate the grandness of it all, the wondrous beauty of being. That’s what I’ll be doing, here in peace.
For aNewDomain, I’m Jason Dias.
Cover image and image two: “Colorado-Springs Garden-of-the-Gods Pikes-Peak 2012-10-21” by Milan Suvajac – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons; image one: By NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; image three: “Old Sparky” by http://www.adc.arkansas.gov/gallery/gallery.htmlhttp://www.adc.arkansas.gov/images/gal26.jpg. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.