Personhood Leaders’ Smear Campaign Debunked

“These people are evil, judgmental, self-righteous ego-maniacs…”

When Newsweek profiled Keith Mason, founder of Personhood USA—the national campaign to grant full personhood rights to fertilized eggs—they weren’t ready for the avalanche of response; The Daily Beast (Newsweek’s online sibling) was forced to close commenting, citing “the viciousness of some reactions to the story.”

Some saw the profile—which describes a charismatic, green-eyed Mason as a hipster preacher who tools around town on a vintage motorbike and loves the Deftones—as a puff piece, a con job, “one of the worst pieces of biased reporting I have ever read.” Anti-abortion sites, such as by video-hoaxer Lila Rose, applauded the piece as fair and balanced. Leading pro-life propagandist Jill Stanek said the feature legitimates the Personhood movement.

On July 2, still glowing from the national media spotlight, Personhood USA issued a press release, “Personhood Leaders Suffer Violent Attacks From Pro-Abortion Terrorists Following Newsweek Feature,” with photos and a description of shattered front-door glass, spray-painted coathangers and “Fuck You” with a backward “F”  scrawled across the front of their house in the Denver suburbs. The release claimed that the Newsweek profile had led to physical threats and the posting of the Masons’ home address in comments, and implicated The Daily Beast’s “notoriously liberal” readers and “pro-choice criminals” in the alleged vandalism.

“Our reaction is one of puzzlement. What kind of person would terrorize the home of a family with young, innocent children inside? We’re left wondering what these abortion fanatics hoped to accomplish,” said Mason, who noted that the hateful attacks “renewed our resolve to press forward.”

The conservative media machine, from Live Action News, to Newsbusters, to Free Republic, ran with Mason’s story of being attacked by violent pro-choice advocates, pushing the narrative that violent assaults against pro-life Americans are on the rise.

The Daily Beast reacted on the day of the press release by publishing its third story on the Masons in the space of a week, complete with the same home vandalism photos the anti-abortion outlets were running. And the next day, even the reliably skeptical website Jezebel called for a plague on both houses: “it would be nice if this incident could cause BOTH sides of this debate to look at their tactics and really think about how little good it does to terrorize people you disagree with.”

Further spinning Keith Mason’s myth of rampaging “pro-abortion criminals,” LifeSiteNews raised the culture-war stakes: “Asked point blank if he were willing to lose his life for the cause, the father of four replied, ‘I’m not hoping it goes there, man. Yeah, I don’t want to, but I’m willing.’” 

A Little Dramatic

“Sounds like Mr. Mason has embellished,” said Westminster Police Investigator Cheri Spottke for the third time, dismissing several reports on the incident. For example, two squad cars had responded, as is protocol (not four as reported in news stories), and there was nothing about the rock thrown through the door window being 45 pounds.

In addition, the police report doesn’t mention home security lights being “yanked down,” nor is there mention of children, children’s toys, “or anything on children at all.” This includes the alleged tricycle that, Mason claimed, should have signaled the presence of kids to the vandals, which prompted him to tell the Daily Beast that there are “some really bad cats out there.”

“Sounds like Mr. Mason is being a little dramatic,” said Spottke, when asked about the Masons’ move to a safe house. “I don’t mean to laugh. But this is low-level criminal mischief and we would never tell him to go into hiding,” she said, confirming later that the Masons’ hired a private security consultant who might have been involved in their decision to not return home and that the police played no part in the decision.

“If the Masons were truly scared and going into hiding, I hope they’d be more cooperative with us,” she said, explaining that the Masons’ public campaign had undermined their investigation. “You don’t release a press release and contact the media if you want to protect your children. But that’s just from a police perspective.” In a culture war against reproductive health and rights, however, drama is a key weapon. Because it works.

What ultimately got a guffaw out of Investigator Spottke was prominent pro-lifer Jill Stanek’s unwarranted assertion that “whether this is deemed a terrorist attack or hate crime will be up to the FBI, which is now involved.” Composing herself, Spottke assured RD that that no, the FBI is not involved. A private citizen can’t get the FBI involved without coming through her agency, which she doesn’t see happening. The Mason case, as the inspector emphasized, is criminal mischief, which is neither a hate crime nor domestic terrorism.

Personal, Not Political

The most serious threat to Mason’s claim is that police are investigating the case as a personal vendetta by fellow pro-life Christian activists; an approach that has nothing to do with the pro-choice movement. Despite last week’s conservative media frenzy, the Mason case is officially personal—it’s “coincidental,” not politically motivated or associated.

According to investigator Spottke, the “person of interest” is actually a couple the Masons had a falling out with—former friends who “have the same beliefs and standings as the Masons.” Spottke informed RD that Mason had asked the police to talk to someone they knew well who’d posted “pretty derogatory remarks” on The Daily Beast, specifically against his wife.

The nasty reader comment at the start of this article didn’t stop with critique of character. The full text read:

These people are evil, judgmental, self-righteous ego-maniacs—Bob Enyart, a convicted child abuser is the man behind PersonhoodUSA & currently the Masons are under investigation for criminal conspiracy & online criminal libel for making numerous false reports of child abuse against an innocent family. [Link to Enyart charges added, but no corroboration could be found for the allegations against the Masons —Ed.]

Bob Enyart is an influential pastor of the Denver Bible Church, under whose auspices the Masons organize—he’s an inflammatory anti-gay, anti-choice activist and national radio host, arrested for protesting Focus on the Family as too liberal. A quick search of Enyart and the Masons turns up a pair of disgruntled former co-agitators, Dani and Curtis Kekoa, an anti-government Christian-Right couple out to expose all three Personhood USA leaders as criminals and frauds.

A blog set up by the Kekoas details the soap-opera betrayal that forced them from Rev. Enyart’s flock and to break their years-long friendship with the Masons. In two separate posts, Dani mentions being banned from Newsweek comments on the Mason profile and how The Daily Beast “had to close down the comments suddenly after the TRUTH about the Masons’ online criminal activity was exposed.”

Although the police can’t confirm that the Kekoas are their “persons of interest,” one look at the Kekoas’ Facebook page, “Boycott Bob Enyart, the Convicted Child Abuser,” (with its image gallery of screen shots from the now-deleted Daily Beast comments list) is enough to make it a plausible theory.

A False Equivalence

Anti-abortion propagandists have since backed away from the Mason smear campaign, perhaps because the facts don’t add up. Still, a correction has yet to be issued by any of the involved parties and the damage has been done.

One Colorado Senator leapt to condemn the ugly tactics of intimidation by “opponents of Personhood.” And the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America issued a press statement condemning the “deplorable” attacks on Keith Mason: “Differences aside, we reject any acts of violence and intimidation on those who do not share our views.”

Anti-choice activist Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life fretted to LifeSiteNews:

Where are the voices of Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and other abortion advocacy groups when violence is perpetrated on pro-life people? These groups are heard loud and clear when violence is done to supporters of their philosophy. It would be nice to see some consistency here.

But this plaint, echoed by others, is a false equivalence.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains—whose staff, volunteers, and patients endure threats, intimidation, and low-level violence as a matter of course—know about being targeted for what they believe in. Four years after PPRM’s new headquarters and health center opened in Denver, contractors who built it are still picketed at their homes on holidays (including by the Masons, Kekoas, Enyart, and other Colorado for Life affiliates). One pro-life website links, under the heading of “blood workers,” to photographs of the contractors, as well as PPRM staff and security.

So far in 2012 PPRM averages 19 incident reports per month, according to Monica McCafferty, Director of Marketing and Communications. Incidents are defined as anything that rises above the threshold of center protests or picketing, such as arson, assault, battery, burglary, hate mail, stalking, suspicious and/or harassing calls, suspicious encounters and packages, theft, vandalism, trespass, IT hacking, bomb threats, death threats, residential picketing, and more.

“We can’t get distracted by fear tactics and intimidation,” McCafferty said. “It’s a daily way of life for us and we can’t make a media frenzy every time we’re attacked. We have an important job to do and that means ensuring people have affordable health care.”

“The anti-abortion movement has shown that they will accept any level of violence, that they will stop at absolutely nothing to impose their views on others,” said Boulder’s Dr. Warren Hern, one of the last remaining late-term abortion specialists since the 2009 murder of abortion provider George Tiller. 

“…the comparison between this incident and what the anti-abortion people have done is quite ludicrous, because the anti-abortion fanatics have been harassing and committing acts of violence against doctors and women and clinics and pro-choice clinic personnel for over 40 years. And this includes multiple assassinations of physicians and others,”

said Hern, whose life revolves around the daily effort to provide safety and security for patients, staff, and himself. “So how this person, who’s an anti-abortion activist, can compare what’s happened to him to this other 40 years is quite absurd.”

Just today, in a RenewAmerica column titled “Violence against pro-lifers: evil and predictable,” Judie Brown of American Life League writes that, “It is not only sad, but terrifying, that there are people today who would get so enraged with those who are pro-life that they would attempt to frighten or even harm them. Yet that is exactly what has happened in Colorado.” Facts tell a different story. Of course, in a culture war, reality doesn’t matter as much as strategic truthiness and stories that endure.

Research for this article by RD Associate Editor KATIE TOTH