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The Making of an American Terrorist

Robert Dear shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic and killed three people. Did the right-wing media help turn a disturbed loner into a mass murderer?

Illustration by Cun Shi

On the morning that Robert Dear Jr. opened fire on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, he began the day by stopping by the hospital to pick up his girlfriend. Dear, a 57-year-old marijuana grower, lived with Stephanie Bragg in an RV, with no electricity or running water, on a barren alpine plain roughly 40 miles from Woodland Park, Colorado. Bragg had been hospitalized for a boil on her rear end that had turned gangrenous. When Dear arrived at Pikes Peak Regional Hospital at 9 o’clock on the morning of November 27, 2015, he learned that Bragg’s doctors did not want to release her. They were concerned she would be unable to care for her open wound.

“I can change her gauze,” Dear told them.

The doctors asked to watch him do it. Dear refused. A burly man who stands six-foot-two and weighs 240 pounds, he looks like a caricature of a biblical prophet, with a thick, white beard and wild, angry eyes. He believed that the doctors were actually federal agents in disguise. The government, he was convinced, had been following him for more than two decades. They had assassinated Robin Williams and a White House chef, and now they wanted to attack him as he was changing Bragg’s bandage.

“It was a trick,” he told me later. “They wanted to come up behind me while I had my hands up her ass.”

Dear grew confrontational. “Look, I’m not playing your games,” he told the doctors. “I’m not going to do it.”

Bragg began to sob. “Whatever happens, I love you!” she said.

Dear stormed out of the hospital and drove away in his pickup truck. He decided to find a pay phone and call Bragg. He didn’t own a cell phone, because he believed federal agents could use it to track his movements. He wanted to tell Bragg to leave the hospital and wait outside so he could pick her up. But when he found a working pay phone at a pharmacy, he couldn’t get through to the switchboard at the hospital.

In that instant, Dear recalled, he “went white.” The feds, he believed, were holding his girlfriend hostage as a way to get at him. At any moment they might attempt to kill him or throw him in a “federal gulag.” In his paranoid imagination, the failed phone call was no coincidence. It was an act of war.

Dear thought about retaliating with a direct assault on the FBI. But targeting the feds would be difficult. “They don’t list FBI addresses so guys like me can’t find them,” he told me. So Dear decided instead to make his last stand at what he considered to be “the most evil place on earth.” He stopped at a couple of stores to buy phone cards, then found a pay phone at a Howard Johnson. Standing in the lobby, he called Planned Parenthood’s toll-free number, 1-800-230-PLAN.

Police in Colorado Springs fought an hours-long gun battle with Dear, who had barricaded himself inside the Planned Parenthood clinic.

A receptionist gave him the address for the clinic in Colorado Springs, and Dear got back in his truck and drove away. But he quickly got lost. He stopped and asked a mail carrier for directions, but still couldn’t find the clinic. He stopped again and looked at a map. Finally, at around 11:30 a.m., he reached Planned Parenthood.

Dear parked in front of the clinic and went around to the back of his pickup. The truck held four SKS semiautomatic rifles, two other rifles, a shotgun, two pistols, a hatchet, several knives, a supply of ammunition, arrow tips, a bulletproof vest he had fashioned himself from coins and duct tape, and a Bible. For the past year, he had kept the arsenal close by him at all times, “just in case.” Now he donned the vest and placed several of the weapons in garbage bags so they would be easier to carry. Then he began what he would later refer to as his “rampage.”

Two women had just arrived at the clinic and were getting out of their car. Samantha Wagner had an appointment that morning. Her friend Jennifer Markovsky, a mother of two young children, had accompanied her to provide moral support.

“You shouldn’t have come,” Dear told them. Then he shot them both, shattering Wagner’s arm and killing Markovsky.

Ke’Arre Stewart, an Iraq War veteran and father of two, was standing outside waiting for his girlfriend, who had an appointment at the clinic. Hearing the shots, he yelled a warning to the people inside. Dear shot and killed him, then entered the clinic.

Inside, someone screamed, “There’s an active shooter!” A nurse ran out the back door to an adjacent medical building and told the office workers there to call 911. The remaining staff in the clinic followed safety protocols that Planned Parenthood has developed for attacks: They barricaded themselves in exam rooms and offices, along with nine patients, turned off the lights, and silenced their phones. Dear opened fire, shooting wildly in all directions. Ammar Laskarwala, who had accompanied a friend to an appointment, had barricaded himself inside a bathroom when a bullet pierced the wall and struck him in the chest.

The clinic’s windows were treated so that people could see out, but not in. So when police arrived, at 11:40 a.m., Dear began picking off the officers one by one. He injured five, and killed one. Police used an armored vehicle to smash through the clinic’s doors, but they couldn’t get at Dear. “We’re exchanging gunfire,” an officer radioed during the fight. “We’re trying to keep him pinned down.” Police attempted to communicate with Dear by calling the clinic’s phones, but he refused to answer. Then they lobbed in tear gas, setting off the facility’s sprinkler system.

Dear, who considers himself an ardent Christian, began coughing and praying. “Just take me home, God,” he pleaded. “Just take me home.” A bullet grazed his hand. Sitting on the wet floor, he drew a cross on the wall with his blood. He put his fingers in the accumulating water and licked them to soothe his parched throat. At one point during the standoff, he found a credit card and wrote the words “Shoot out” on one side and “Give up” on the other. He flipped the card. It landed “Give up.”

At 4:52 p.m., Dear surrendered. As he was arrested, he yelled, “No more baby parts!”

After the shootings, much of the media’s early reporting on Dear emphasized that he had no formal connection to anti-abortion groups or other right-wing activists. The New York Times called him a “gentle loner who occasionally unleashed violent acts towards neighbors and women he knew.” Buzzfeed described him as a “loner” who “never smiled.” Because he was white and American and acted alone, Dear did not fit the accepted definition of a terrorist: He was depicted simply as a crazy person, someone whose actions could not be anticipated or prevented. His violence, in short, was spurred by mental illness, not political ideology.

The right was especially eager to distance itself from Dear. In the aftermath of the shooting, I spoke with Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, who helped produce the notorious and discredited videotape that accused Planned Parenthood of selling “baby body parts” from abortions. Newman disavowed any responsibility for Dear’s killings, even though his group had played a key role in helping direct Dear’s ire at Planned Parenthood. Dear was not part of the anti-abortion movement, Newman insisted. He was just “a loon who clicks on Google all day.”

When Muslim Americans commit acts of terrorism, we hold ISIS and Hezbollah and “radical Islam” accountable for their actions, even if they are mentally unstable, and even if there is no direct connection between them and the groups that inspired them. We call these terrorists “self-radicalized.” It is how we see Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013; and Omar Mateen, who went on a murderous rampage at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando last June; and Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, who killed 86 people and injured 434 at a celebration in Nice on Bastille Day. They did not go to a terrorist training camp, or join an organized cell, or attend an anti-Western madrassa. They learned to hate from a network of web sites and magazines and videotapes. Their madrassa was the media.

“That’s the way many terrorists today are radicalized now,” says Paul Gill, a professor of security and crime science at University College London. “They are not formally recruited or trained. Today’s terrorists go online and find the ideology that fits their personal grievance and passively consume the propaganda.”

Dear became radicalized in precisely the same way. But because the media he listened to advocated war in the name of a Christian god, and argued for an ideology considered “conservative,” he is portrayed as no one’s responsibility. In fact, as I learned from hours of speaking with Dear, the narratives he learned from Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites meshed perfectly with his paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies. The right-wing media didn’t just tell him what he wanted to hear. They brought authority and detail to a world he was convinced was tormenting him. They were his shelter and his inspiration, his only real community.

“I’m a loner,” Dear told me. “I don’t talk to anyone. I just found this stuff searching web sites. What the real truth is.”

A few days after Dear attacked Planned Parenthood, I wrote to him at the El Paso County Jail, where he was being held. In 1998, an anti-abortion extremist named James Charles Kopp had murdered my uncle, Barnett Slepian, a doctor who performed abortions. I told Dear that I wanted to understand why he chose Planned Parenthood as his target. Dear called me collect shortly after Christmas. He sounded suspicious and guarded, but he was willing to talk.

“The easy answer,” he told me when I pressed him about Planned Parenthood, “is it’s all about saving babies.”

Dear started calling me every week or so. In March, I visited him in jail. Visitors at El Paso are allowed to speak with prisoners only via closed-circuit television, so I watched him on an old black-and-white monitor. He looked much as he did in his arrest photos: wild-eyed and disheveled, jumpy and jittery, sometimes lurching, as if his body mirrored the furious pitching of his mind.

Dear, who was diagnosed after the shooting with a delusion disorder, believed that the Planned Parenthood clinic he attacked was the “most evil place on earth.”

The things he said to me veered between raving paranoia—government agents had broken into his home and left behind a feather—and more lucid diatribes about abortion. “Some day, somebody is going to send me a letter with a picture of a baby,” he said, his pride evident. “They’re going to say, ‘Thank you. I didn’t have an abortion. Here’s a picture of the baby. Thanks to you.’ That’s going to happen some day.”

Dear said that his hatred of abortions, and the groups that provide them, was long-standing. But the news that Planned Parenthood had been “selling baby parts” focused and amplified his antipathy. Before the attack, Dear learned about the videotapes on The Mandy Connell Show, a right-wing radio program he listened to in Colorado. Connell is well-known for her racist and xenophobic statements. She once referred on-air to President Obama as a “half-breed,” and calls Planned Parenthood “evil,” accusing it of “protecting rapists.” The summer before Dear’s attack, Connell had devoted several segments of her show to the Planned Parenthood videos. She posted links to them on Twitter and her Facebook page. Major news organizations reported that the videos were fraudulent, but Connell published an article on the web site of her radio station with the headline, “ANOTHER PLANNED PARENTHOOD VIDEO STARRING PP OF THE ROCKIES.” (“PP of the Rockies” is Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which operates the Colorado Springs clinic.) “I am almost at my tipping point,” she wrote.

As Dear grew more comfortable with me, his diatribes turned from abortion to government surveillance. When I asked him how the “feds”—his favorite term—could monitor him so closely, he pointed to Alex Jones, another right-wing radio host he followed closely. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, has called Jones “the most prolific conspiracy theorist in contemporary America.” On Infowars, a web site run by Jones, Dear learned about an FBI program called InfraGard. Started in 1996, InfraGard connects local law enforcement agencies, U.S. businesses, and universities with information about possible terrorist threats. To Jones, InfraGard is a government conspiracy that pays Americans to spy on their neighbors. “InfraGard has citizen spies everywhere,” Jones warned in a YouTube broadcast in 2012. “It has over 100,000 preachers trained to spy on their flocks.” Fueled by such fevered claims, Dear concluded that the feds were using InfraGard to track his every move.

Dear also relied on right-wing radio shows to formulate his beliefs about gun violence and mass shootings. He took as the gospel truth the claims of Carl Gallups, a Baptist minister in Florida who hosts a show called Freedom Friday, that gun safety advocates had hired Hollywood actors to fake the mass shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012 that killed 20 first graders. According to Gallups, one actor played “the part of a grieving father with a woman standing beside him, crying, slinging snot.”

Gallups also introduced Dear to the idea that Barack Obama is the Antichrist. In a YouTube video he posted in 2009, Gallups pointed to Luke 10:18: “He said unto them, I beheld Satan fall as lightning from heaven.” The transliteration of the Hebrew word for lightning, Gallups explained, is baraq. The video has been viewed more than two million times.

“Immediately, I saw this video, and I said, ‘That’s it!’ ’’ Dear told me. “I looked it up in the Bible. And he was right!” It made no difference to Dear that Jesus spoke Aramaic, and that the New Testament is written in Greek.

“You better start thinking,” Dear warned me. “You heard about Judge Scalia, how they didn’t even do an autopsy. So they took the Supreme Court out of the equation. Now Obama can declare martial law. He’s got ISIS fighting to get troops over here. He’s got a Cuban army. All of our troops are overseas, over in Iraq and Afghanistan. So we don’t have enough troops here. We’ve got to bring troops from these other countries to help. It’s all a plan. It’s just like Judas betraying Jesus, the spirit of Satan is from Judas. He says the spirit of Satan will be the Antichrist. Everything is going to be on lockdown!”

“The world you describe is an incredibly frightening place,” I told Dear.

“You have no concept,” he replied.

Dear was born into an upper-middle-class family in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1958. His father, Robert Sr., attended the Citadel and worked for a tobacco company. His mother, Mary, was a health care worker. On the surface, they seemed to be a conventional family. Yet Dear was always unusual. He recalls having a powerful religious experience at age nine, when he claims he was struck by lightning. “The miracle of the lightning strike,” he calls it. “I saw the vision.”

As Dear grew older, he began to have serious issues with women. In 1984, when he was 26, he and his girlfriend, Barbara Micheau, began discussing marriage. Dear brought her home to meet his family. Over dinner, no one told her that Dear was already married and had a four-year-old son. When she learned the truth, she married him anyway, and her father got him a job as a management trainee at the local utility.

“Rob put on a tie, went to work, and watched the evening news,” Micheau said. But whenever Dear felt slighted, he would lash out. “He was obsessed with revenge,” she said. To retaliate against a supervisor he felt pushed him too hard, Dear went running in his office clothes so that he stank at work. When a neighbor pestered him about following their subdivision’s parking rules, Dear poured gasoline on the man’s lawn to make it die. At first, the conflicts remained interpersonal, small, and contained. Nothing in the wider world seemed to interest Dear. Then he discovered shortwave radio.

In those days, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, major broadcast outlets were forbidden from running partisan content without providing equal time to opposing views. But on shortwave channels, right-wing broadcasts were proliferating. Dear tuned in as often as possible. “That’s what turned me on to the conspiracies and the Bible prophecies,” he recalled. His favorites included Brother Stair, a Pentecostal minister who has predicted the end of the world; William Cooper, who preached that aids was a man-made disease; Pete Peters, whom the Anti-Defamation League has called a “leading anti-Jewish, anti-minority, and anti-gay propagandist”; and Texe Marrs, leader of the Power of Prophecy Ministries, who claimed that the federal government committed the Oklahoma City bombing and framed Timothy McVeigh.

Dear also became fixated on small magazines devoted to right-wing conspiracies. He spent hours at Barnes & Noble poring over magazines like The Prophecy Club, The Spotlight, and Paranoia, obsessing over their brand of crackpot theorizing: how the Robert Bork confirmation battle was connected to the JFK assassination, how the World Trade Organization ran a secret “Codex Alimentarius,” how the government operated a series of Deep Underground Military Bases, how it was planning an “American Hiroshima.”

But for Dear, conspiracy magazines and shortwave radio were just gateway drugs. Once the Fairness Doctrine was abolished by the FCC under Ronald Reagan, radio stations were free to air far-right views as often as they liked. On August 1, 1988, a talk-show host named Rush Limbaugh began broadcasting nationwide.

Limbaugh, with his anti-PC humor and anti-female perspective, appealed to Dear. He liked to listen in the car, tuning in for hours on long trips he took alone, disappearing to the beach or Atlantic City. At the time, Operation Rescue was staging aggressive protests against abortion clinics, and Limbaugh angrily denounced abortion as a “modern-day holocaust.” Among his first on-air jokes was the “caller abortion”: When someone annoyed him on air, Limbaugh hung up and played the sound of a vacuum cleaner mixed with a choking scream.

It was around this time that Dear committed his first act of political vigilantism. One night, he met a local activist who had spent the day picketing an abortion clinic in Charleston. While they were talking, the woman pointed to a mother with her young daughter, and told Dear that the little girl had recently thanked her for talking her mom out of aborting her. In a rage, Dear later told his wife, he had gone to the abortion clinic and put Super Glue in the door locks.

Dear’s life, meanwhile, began to fall apart. He lost his job in 1989, after repeated confrontations with his co-workers. He turned violent at home, yanking and shoving his wife if she arrived home late from work, slamming her head into a floor because she had moved his motorcycle helmet. “We had dogs—yellow labs,” Micheau says. “He Tasered them just to see what would happen.”

The family of police officer Garrett Swasey, one of Dear’s victims, mourn at his funeral.
Dear lived in a trailer on a remote mountain plain; his main connection to the outside world was right-wing radio and web sites.

In 1990, Micheau became pregnant. Not long after that, she learned that Pam Ross, the woman who would become Dear’s third wife, was also expecting a child by him. “Rob loved pregnant women,” Micheau says. “He wanted us all to live together.” They separated in 1992, and finally divorced two years later.

Dear started getting into legal trouble around this time as well. A year before Micheau left him, he was convicted of unlawfully carrying a long-blade knife and a loaded gun. The following year, a woman he met at a mall accused him of raping her at knifepoint. Dear denied the charge, and boasted that his parents paid $25,000 to hire “the biggest lawyer in South Carolina” to defend him. Dear failed a polygraph test, but the charges were dropped when a key witness refused to testify.

As he was fighting the rape charge, Dear became obsessed with an event that had transfixed the right-wing media: the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. When federal agents were accused of setting fire to the sect’s compound, killing more than 70 people, Dear called in to a far-right talk show and unleashed an angry rant about the “Federal Bureau of Incineration.” This, he believes, was the moment when the FBI decided to go after him.

“So I call in to the radio station, and two months later I get a fake rape charge,” Dear told me. “They studied me and they said, ‘OK, here’s his weakness. We’re going to send him one of our fed women, to come on to him, and then we can charge him with rape and put his ass away.’”

Dear, in fact, was accused of the rape before Waco. But in his mind, it was his interaction with the right-wing media that transformed him into someone important enough to be targeted by the government. Far-right talk shows not only reinforced his views, they gave him a platform to express them. They didn’t care that he was paranoid, or delusional, or violent. They thrived on the calls—the more extreme, the better. The calls made Dear feel like he was part of something bigger than himself. As with Islamic terrorists, the line between religious fundamentalism and extremist ideology grew blurry. “That’s when Rob started compulsively reading the Bible,” Micheau recalls. “That’s when he started obsessing about Judgment Day.”

By 1995, Dear was living with Pam Ross in a three-bedroom trailer home in Walterboro, South Carolina, with their five-year-old son, Taylor, and her son from a previous marriage. Dear says he supported the family by purchasing art from local artists and selling it to galleries across the region. But Walker Dear, his son with Micheau, doesn’t recall him as overly focused on his business. “I don’t exactly remember my dad ever working much,” he told me. What he remembers, when he visited his father on weekends, was seeing him “glued” to the television, obsessively watching the latest right-wing broadcaster he was following: Bill O’Reilly.

Fox News had launched in October 1996, a little more than a year after the Oklahoma City bombing, and O’Reilly was one of its biggest on-air talents. “Fox gives voice to people who can’t get on other networks,” O’Reilly later told a reporter. “When was the last time you saw pro-life people unless they shot somebody?” Like Limbaugh, O’Reilly devoted lots of air time to denouncing abortions, and those who provided them. At one point, Dear told me it was on O’Reilly’s show that he’d first learned that Planned Parenthood sold baby body parts. “One little story,” he said, “and I kept it in my mind.”

Dear often gets confused over time lines; Fox was not his introduction to the Planned Parenthood story. But O’Reilly did devote show after show—29 in all—to attacking Dr. George Tiller, the Kansas abortion provider targeted by Operation Rescue. “If you want to kill a baby, you hire Tiller,” O’Reilly said. “Pay him $5,000 up front, and he’ll kill the baby.” O’Reilly also claimed that Tiller’s clinic performed abortions on girls as young as ten, and did not report the pregnancies to authorities. In 2009, Tiller was murdered during a service at his church by an anti-abortion militant named Scott Roeder.

At about the same time he began listening to O’Reilly, Dear also bought his first computer and went on the internet for the first time. For a mind already conditioned to the endless stream of conspiracies and hate-mongering of talk radio and Fox News, the internet was a round-the-clock source of affirmation. “He was hooked—addicted,” his son recalled. “He was all, ‘The Illuminati control the world! Contrails control your mind! The CIA started aids! Jenny McCarthy is right about vaccines! George W. and Laura Bush are both lizards!’”

Walker stressed to me that the Dears enjoyed a relatively normal family life in Walterboro. Dear sometimes played video games with him and Taylor, and he liked to ride his motorcycle with them while they rode dirt bikes or ATVs. On Sundays, Dear read the Bible with them. “He was my dad,” Walker told me. “He was really normal, except for his beliefs.”

Embedded in Dear’s anger against Planned Parenthood was a deep-seated anger against women. Dear and Ross divorced in 2001, after an incident of domestic violence. In 2005, he began posting his profile on dating sites like He was interested, according to his posts, in a “discreet relationship, casual sex, BDSM, a long-term relationship, spanking.” He was in and out of online relationships with women until 2008, when he met Stephanie Bragg.

Bragg, whom acquaintances describe as fragile and needy, was a devout Christian with two school-age daughters. After dating Dear for a year, she left her children and joined Dear in North Carolina, where he lived in an isolated shack in the woods to evade what he believed was persecution by the feds back in South Carolina.

Dear did, in fact, have trouble with the law in South Carolina, but not at the federal level. One neighbor had called the police to complain that Dear had threatened his life and shot his dog; another filed for a restraining order after he peeped in her window. Dear’s problems persisted in North Carolina, with complaints that he was abusing and neglecting his dogs.

In 2012, Colorado joined Washington to become the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use. Dear had been a regular user for years. Bragg had a prescription for medical marijuana, but her supply was apparently limited, so Dear had to buy from weed dealers, which made him nervous. He decided to move with Bragg to a remote locale in Colorado, where he could avoid federal surveillance and freely grow and smoke “herb,” his favored term for marijuana.

Frustrated by his father’s conspiracy theories and strident religiosity, Walker had fallen out of touch with his dad. Then one day, he turned on the television and saw his father on the news for the Planned Parenthood shooting. It was hard to reconcile his memories of his dad with the wild-eyed murderer being paraded before the cameras. He was especially struck by shots of Dear’s dilapidated camper. The squalor seemed like a symbol of just how much his father had changed. “Our place in Walterboro wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a mess,” Walker said. “We lived there.”

Those in the right-wing media who traffic in hate and conspiracy theories are quick to deny that they should be held responsible for the consequences of their words. After Waco, Rush Limbaugh took to the airwaves to predict that “the second violent American revolution” was imminent. Yet two weeks after the Oklahoma City bombing, he published an op-ed in Newsweek entitled “Why I’m Not to Blame.” After running 29 shows attacking George Tiller as “Tiller the Baby Killer” and saying there was “a special place in hell” for him, Bill O’Reilly dismissed any accountability for inciting the doctor’s murder: “I reported extensively on Tiller and after he was assassinated by a man named Scott Roeder, some far-left loons blamed me.”


Carl Gallups

It was from Gallups, a Sandy Hook “truther” who believes the school shooting was a hoax, that Dear learned that President Obama is Satan.

Mandy Connell

A few months before his rampage, Dear called in to Connell’s radio show, where he’d first heard about the “baby body parts” videos.

Alex Jones

The conspiracy theories on Jones’s web site, Infowars, fueled Dear’s delusional fears about surveillance by the federal government.

Texe Marrs

A shortwave radio host and favorite of Dear, Marrs claims the federal government framed Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing.

Rush Limbaugh

Limbaugh made anti-abortion rhetoric mainstream; Dear liked to tune in to his anti- government rants for hours on long drives, alone in his car.

Bill O’Reilly

O’Reilly’s unrelenting on-air attacks on George Tiller, an abortion doctor murdered by an extremist in 2009, had a powerful impact on Dear.


I contacted many of Dear’s media role models to ask if they saw any connection between the beliefs they advocated on-air and online and what Dear had done after he listened to them. Only Troy Newman, from Operation Rescue, agreed to speak with me. He denied that his group’s rhetoric had spurred Dear in any way, but he acknowledged the power of its anti-abortion message. When we talked about the Planned Parenthood videos, he said that Dear “realized there is truth here, that babies are being murdered. So he went and acted—but in a lunatic way, rather than within the system.”

But when it comes to his terrorism, Dear’s insanity is beside the point. “Forty percent of lone actors who commit terrorist acts are diagnosed as mentally ill,” says J. Reid Meloy, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego who develops terrorist assessment tools for the FBI. “Paranoid individuals take what they hear in a very literal, concrete, absolutist way. They often don’t understand sarcasm. It can excite them to violence.”

Dear talked often about a group called Army of God, a Christian terrorist organization that has engaged in murder and kidnapping against abortion providers. He loved its web site and felt a kinship with its leaders. After the Planned Parenthood massacre, when Dear was in prison, he received a letter he said was full of praise from Donald Spitz, a spokesman for the group.

I told Dear that last spring, Army of God posted a chilling homage to him on its web site. It showed a photograph of Dear at the time of his arrest, with a caption that read, “I am a warrior for the babies!” Dear was pleased about this, but not satisfied.

“Does it say anything else?” he asked.

Dear had written to Spitz, and he was eager to know if Spitz had complied with his request to post the passage from Luke 10:18 that proved Barack Obama was Satan. When I told him it wasn’t there, he seemed annoyed, but also validated.

“Spitz is a fed,” he said. “I knew he was a fed because he said he couldn’t afford to call me. Yeah, right.”

It would be easy to dismiss Dear as an unstable man who was driven by his mental illness rather than an organized ideology. After his arrest, psychiatrists diagnosed him with a “delusional disorder, persecutory type.” But Dear’s tendency toward violence was shaped and steered by outside forces every bit as much as the foreign terrorists we have come to fear. In its calls for an anti-abortion jihad, Army of God sounds eerily similar to ISIS. “We desperately need single lone rangers out there, who will commit to destroy one abortuary before they die,” the group has declared. Terrorism respects no borders and hews to no one ideology or religion. The raw materials it needs are always at hand. All it requires is the proper vehicle to drive itself into the world.

For Dear, the right-wing media and the extremism they champion gave his delusions and rage a sense of higher purpose—one couched in a religiosity every bit as dangerous as that of Islamic fundamentalists. “I’m what you call the guys who fought the crusade,” Dear told me. “I prayed to God to let me be David from the Bible, a mighty man of valor. I prayed and he granted my wish.” The voices Dear heard came not from above, but from his radio and his television and his computer. They told him whom to think of as evil. They told him whom to hate. “That’s the only reason I had the strength to do what I had to do,” he says. “I’m nothing special.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.