The radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue steered the Republican congressional majority toward a government shutdown after driving a related group's attacks on Planned Parenthood.
GOP lawmakers threatened to hold the government hostage as leverage to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood after a series of misleading videos were released this summer by the anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), which a new report shows is essentially indistinguishable from the controversial group.
CMP accused Planned Parenthood of illegally selling fetal tissue for profit -- although multiple independent investigations have found no evidence of wrongdoing and analysis has shown the videos were deceptively edited and produced.
The activist group's founder, David Daleiden, coordinated the video sting for at least three years with the Kansas-based Operation Rescue -- which is synonymous with anti-abortion radicalism -- and its current director, Troy Newman, according to a new report by the People for the American Way.
"We hit it off very, very well, and we began discussing all the various techniques he would have to use in order to infiltrate Planned Parenthood,” Newman told Fox News.
Operation Rescue's violent past -- and Newman's harshly militant stance -- have relegated the group to the fringes, where its zealous activists continue to direct public policy from the shadows.
"The reason that (Daleiden) came to us was because he shared our vision for obtaining criminal prosecutions and really doing something substantial to report these abuses, document and report them, and bring an end to not only these practices, but an end to the abortion industry in America," said Cheryl Sullenger, Operation Rescue’s senior policy advisor. "He knew if he focused on Planned Parenthood that would be probably the most powerful way to do that."
Their plot would require powerful allies who may be reluctant to highlight their association to a group whose second-in-command, Sullenger, was convicted in 1988 of conspiring to bomb a San Diego abortion clinic.
Newman has argued that accused killers of abortion providers should be allowed to claim political motivations as a defense, and both he and CMP/Operation Rescue board member Albin Rhomberg have been accused of stalking and harassing abortion clinic workers and patients.
The group's founder, Randall Terry, is among the most toxic figures in U.S. politics -- and although Operation Rescue takes pains to distance itself from his apparent support for the killings of abortion providers, the link remains strong in the public imagination.
That's why Daleiden and Newman cooked up CMP, which disingenuously promotes itself as a “group of citizen journalists."
Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers have seized on the deceptive videos in an attempt to squeeze the life out of Planned Parenthood, which provides birth control, medical exams and other reproductive health services to women -- many of whom are poor and lack other access to care.
Although the videos have been debunked as misleading, at best, House Republicans have held congressional hearings and some states have withdrawn funding to Planned Parenthood -- and House Speaker John Boehner resigned, in part, over an ongoing dispute with anti-abortion hardliners.
Operation Rescue, whose leadership overlaps with CMP's, appears to be directing the entire campaign with the 26-year-old Daleiden as its public face.
“The beautiful thing about David Daleiden is he’s just a courageous young man with a very clean record,” Newman said. “Just coming right in, he’s not recognizable by anybody, so he was able to walk into these (Planned Parenthood) meetings completely unnoticed.”
Those ties have been reported in the months since CMP began releasing the videos, which are heavily and incuriously promoted by conservative media, but the PFAW report details how closely intertwined the newer group is with the radical group.
CMP's tax filings show Daleiden as its CEO, Newman as its secretary and Rhomberg as its chief financial officer, and interviews with the activists scattered around the Internet show they have provided material and other support to the video activist group.
The central claim made by CMP in the videos -- that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue for profit -- was based on a previous "sting" launched in 1999 by Mark Crutcher of Life Dynamics and promoted by Sullenger before she was sentenced to three years in federal prison for her role in the clinic bombing plot.
That previous attempt to target Planned Parenthood fell apart after the activist group's star witness admitted that Life Dynamics had paid him $20,000 for his story.
Daleiden also took part in previous attacks on Planned Parenthood as a college student, when he joined the anti-abortion group Live Action and participated in a bogus campaign to accuse the organization of covering up child sex trafficking.
Republicans attempted at that time, in 2011, to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood despite evidence that proved Live Action's claims were false.
Rhomberg, the CMP and Operation Rescue board member, took part in a similar bogus campaign in 2002 launched by Life Dynamics that nevertheless gained widespread attention.
The CMP "sting" -- as well as the organization's existence -- is just the latest in a clearly linked string of phony attacks against Planned Parenthood that are hyped by conservative media and swallowed whole by Republican lawmakers and voters.