Thursday, December 3, 2015

Planned Parenthood Shooter Robert Dear's Backstory: A Dispiriting Yarn of Sex and Religion

An illuminating long piece of journalism is the frontpager that appeared in yesterday's paper by Richard Fausset, "For Robert Dear, Religion and Rage Before Planned Parenthood Attack," about the shooter who attacked a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic on Black Friday.

The song that popped into my head as I finished up the last few paragraphs was Grand Funk Railroad's "We're an American Band":

Which is to say that Fausset's journalistic reconstruction of Robert L. Dear, Jr.s life, based on court records, interviews with ex-wives and neighbors, and Internet postings, tells a tale of a very American man: a serial adulterer and wife beater who never quite assimilated to the 9-to-5 but who found license for his misogyny and misanthropy in evangelical Christianity.

The opening four paragraphs lured me into Fausset's telling of Dear's story:
CHARLESTON, S.C. — The man she had married professed to be deeply religious. But after more than seven years with Robert L. Dear Jr., Barbara Micheau had come to see life with him as a kind of hell on earth.
By January 1993, she had had enough. In a sworn affidavit as part of her divorce case, Ms. Micheau described Mr. Dear as a serial philanderer and a problem gambler, a man who kicked her, beat her head against the floor and fathered two children with other women while they were together. He found excuses for his transgressions, she said, in his idiosyncratic views on Christian eschatology and the nature of salvation. 
“He claims to be a Christian and is extremely evangelistic, but does not follow the Bible in his actions,” Ms. Micheau said in the court document. “He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end.”
On Friday, according to officials, Mr. Dear entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people and wounding nine others with a semiautomatic rifle. The attack, which ended with his surrender to the police after a harrowing nationally televised standoff in the snow-dusted Western city, was a brutally violent and very public chapter in a life story whose details are not fully known.
The life-story details Fausset recounts are all-too familiar, and they primarily hinge on Dear's sexual relations with women. What American man can deny that this provides the main chapter headings to his life's book? What makes Dear's folio different from most but not at all unique is the overlay of Born Again Perfectionism, or as an ex-wife testified: "He says that as long as he believes he will be saved, he can do whatever he pleases. He is obsessed with the world coming to an end."

That quote reminded me of a book, Spencer Klaw's Without Sin: The Life and Death of the Oneida Community, about John Humphrey Noyes' Oneida Community. Noyes was part of the communal Utopian freak-out of the 1840s in the United States. He believed in Perfectionism, the idea that it was possible to live without sin here on Earth right now, not just in Heaven or some later date of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Noyes founded several communities that were distinguished by an odd stew of free love, semen retention and eugenics. Teenage boys were encouraged to copulate with post-menopausal women, while the randy old goats of Oneida got first crack at the pubescent girls.

I bring this up because the Dear's backstory conjures up the intimate connection between sex and religious fundamentalism. (Noyes believed his Perfectionism was based on a true reading of the Gospel.) Note also that a main draw for foreign jihadists to the caliphate in Iraq and Syria is the promise of wives; put another way, sex.

Fausset approaches the conclusion of the dispiriting Dear yarn as follows:
Online, Mr. Dear appeared to lead a different sort of life. Though to his neighbors he was a recluse, he posted frequently to a web forum dedicated to cannabis and joined an adult dating site called SexyAds in the fall of 2005 and the winter of 2006. 
On SexyAds, a poster using his email address and photo said he was looking for a discreet relationship and was interested in spanking. On the cannabis forum, he said he was looking for women to “party,” and rarely wrote about using the drug.
Instead, he was far more likely to write brief and emphatic messages about Jesus Christ — usually in caps lock, the online equivalent of yelling — or to post sparsely worded solicitations for female companionship in North and South Carolina. “savannah sexy women wanted. i love to party, tall, aries, male,” he wrote in August 2005.
He argued with users of the site who disagreed with his religious posts, deriding them as “slaves” and “demons” who would suffer at the end of the world. On Oct. 7, 2005, he wrote, “Every knee shall bow an every tongue will confess that JESUS IS LORD.”
Around seven years ago, Mr. Dear began dating a woman named Stephanie Bragg. For reasons that remain unclear, they moved last year to Hartsel, Colo., a hamlet perched about 65 miles west of Colorado Springs. Ringed by mountains, Hartsel calls itself the Heart of Colorado.
But Mr. Dear, it seemed, did not want to be at the heart of anything. He plunked a white trailer marked with a small cross onto five acres of empty scrub land he had bought for $6,000 and lived in near isolation with Ms. Bragg, rarely saying a word or waving hello to his new neighbors.
What a woeful, tired, very American tale it is.

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