It was a moment of justice so delicious that we need a new German word for it, as schadenfreude isn't impactful enough. A Houston area grand jury was convened, under the orders of Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, to investigate allegations that Planned Parenthood was running a black market for-profit fetal tissue trafficking ring. After perusing the evidence, the grand jury exonerated Planned Parenthood, but then turned around and indicted David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, two of the people that helped create the hoax videos that took this lurid right-wing urban legend out of the world of email forwards and into the mainstream media.
The entire episode, however, is a stunning illustration of how far the Republicans have gone when it comes to embracing even the most ridiculous and fringe right wing causes. As long as a group or cause is perceived a "liberal," Republicans will go along with the most ridiculous attacks on it, even if it makes them look like complete morons to anyone outside of the tribal politics of the right.
That Daleiden and Merritt are facing criminal charges is, in itself, no surprise. The videos they made under the auspices of the Center for Medical Progress used heavy editing to make it seem like Planned Parenthood employees were saying things they clearly didn't say. Most notably, they made it seem like they are profiting off fetal tissue when they explicitly say in the unedited footage that Planned Parenthood does not profit off fetal tissue. That people who are willing to do something so deeply deceptive and unethical are also willing to cut legal corners is the least surprising thing in the world, and this is just the latest in a series of legal problems they've gotten themselves into, including being sued for criminal misconduct by Planned Parenthood. Their lies have also been implicated in the deaths of three people who were murdered by a self-proclaimed anti-choice warrior who cited the hoax videos as cause for shooting up a clinic.
What should be surprising is that Lt. Gov. Patrick, with the full support of Gov. Greg Abbott, were stupid enough to force this investigation in the first place. From the get-go, it was self-evident that the accusations against Planned Parenthood were false. It was quite clearly one of those urban legends, like claiming Dungeons & Dragons causes demonic possession or that babies are born clutching IUDs in their fists, that exists only to justify right wing beliefs. In addition, Daleiden was linked from day one to Lila Rose of Live Action, who has a long history of making hoax videos leveling false accusations that Planned Parenthood engages in sex trafficking and, inevitably, that the non-profit is secretly a for-profit business that is somehow making bank for someone with abortion. By the time Patrick ordered the investigation, after journalists had carefully combed through these silly videos to make absolutely clear they are lies, it was obvious that an honest investigation would turn up nothing. (Similar investigations in other states have also cleared Planned Parenthood.)
It's not just the red states that have gone all in on this ridiculous conspiracy theory. It's become mandatory for every Republican candidate to pretend to believe that these discredited videos are some great expose, and Carly Fiorina got so excited about this that she just started making stuff up about what she saw in the videos. They're lying about lies now, a veritable vortex of right wing bullshit.
This absurd situation perhaps became inevitable, however, when mainstream Republicans decided to embrace what used to be a fringe right wing campaign against Planned Parenthood.
Nothing used to be more fringe than the war on Planned Parenthood, which is a really obvious proxy for the larger war on non-procreative sex. Anti-choice activists have long hated Planned Parenthood, believing that its sex-positive vibe and mission to make sex education and contraception easy to get was going to turn this country into a biblical Babylon.
Anti-choice groups would do things like make videos equating sex to a drug, and accusing Planned Parenthood of college students into sex "addicts," defined as anyone who enjoys having sex for pleasure instead of procreation.
Daleiden's colleague, Lila Rose, who promoted his videos, argued in Politico that birth control is inherently wrong, because it causes "sex addiction, divorce, unmarried childbearing and abortion" and that even married people should reject birth control because "something precious is lost when fertility is intentionally excluded from marriage."
Republicans used to grasp that it was wise to keep these overtly anti-sex arguments at the fringe and to pretend that opposition to abortion is about "life" and not sex. After all, 95 percent of Americans have have had premarital sex and nearly 100 percent of hetero-sexually active women use contraception at some point. The demands of the anti-choice movement---celibacy until marriage, infrequent sex for the sole purpose of procreation within it — are so outrageous that even most proponents of this view don't stick with the program.
And yet, in the past few years, Republicans have led these lunatics start calling the shots. Almost overnight, the vendetta against Planned Parenthood moved from the fringes to a number one priority status for Republicans. Starting in 2011, Republicans started threatening to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood's funding wasn't revoked, a well they kept going back to. While the word "abortion" was tossed around a lot during these fights, the funding in question did not go to abortion, but to contraception, as well as STI testing and treatment. This was clearly about catering to a right wing fringe that equates having non-procreative sex to being a drug addict.
This isn't the only evidence that the anti-contraception fringe is calling the shots now. Republicans have used the fact that Obamacare requires insurance companies to cover contraception without a copay as a pretense to throw a nationwide fit, making wild accusations that they're being forced to pay for playtime for a bunch of sluts. (Indeed, Rush Limbaugh didn't even try to coat the accusation in euphemism, declaring that the use of insurance plans to pay for contraception makes a woman a "slut".) The outrage that someone would dare use insurance to pay for sex drugs (lady sex drugs, anyway, as Viagra continues to be non-controversial) even reached the Supreme Court.
Just a few years ago, the idea that someone would use her insurance to pay for birth control was non-controversial for Republicans, just as it was non-controversial for the government to give money to Planned Parenthood so they can offer low cost Pap smears and birth control pills. But all it took to demonize a service that nearly all women, including conservative women, use was to declare that it's "liberal" and link it to Obama.
If you've got a fringe right-wing cause, this is the era for you. All you need to do is invoke the "us vs. them" frame, where you are a noble conservative warrior and your enemies are "liberals," and watch mainstream Republicans come flocking to your defense, regardless of how ill-advised it is to support your stupid cause. If you want to know how politicians who want to shut down the IRS or ban Muslims from traveling into our country became mainstream Republican presidential candidates, look no further than this. If a bunch of wackos who want to shut down access to contraception, a service used by nearly all women, can get make their agenda a priority, any fringe belief has a shot.