[Grants Pass, OR]
On October 23, 2012, a man who had spent months protesting in front of a local Planned Parenthood office in a small southern Oregon town repeatedly stabbed a man with whom he had become engaged in a confrontation.
The stabbing victim, Ted A. Clair, 48, suffered multiple knife wounds in the abdomen and neck. He was hospitalized at Three Rivers Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition for several days.
The protester, Christopher Tolhurst, 54, was ultimately not charged. The stabbing was ruled to be a case of self-defense.
Tolhurst was a familiar fixture in front of the Planned Parenthood office in Grants Pass, a small town of approximately 35,000 in southern Oregon’s remote Rogue River valley. Known primarily as a stopover point on I-5, as well as for its mild climate and as the launching point for rafting and fishing trips on the wild Rogue, Grants Pass is on the whole a very conservative, low-key, relatively religious town. It’s the sort of place where people retire to “get away from it all,” and where out-of-work lumbermen remain bitter about the spotted owl and Federal control of timberlands. Those who come to visit do so primarily for the steelhead and salmon fishing, the white-water opportunities of the Rogue, and (more and more) to tour local wineries, which are surprisingly good and still undiscovered.
It’s not the sort of place that often attracts attention. Locals aren’t used to it. And they don’t particularly like it.
Tolhurst was, therefore, almost always alone in his protest outside the local Planned Parenthood clinic. This is not to say that he didn’t have a great deal of local moral support. After all, most Grants Pass residents are conservative, evangelical, and/or pro-life – most often all three. Still, his methods caused unease. He was highly confrontational, frequently accosting passers-by, whether they were headed into the Planned Parenthood office or not. He had a tendency to step out into the street – a quiet residential road, lined with doctors’ offices and single-family homes – and wave his signs aggressively at passing cars. He caused enough discomfort that patients and staff at the local medical offices found other ways to get to their destinations.
He was, in other words, something of a pariah.
On October 23, he confronted Kailah Clair, 22. Angered, she told Tolhurst that his signs were blocking the sidewalk, and kicked one over.
At this point, Tolhurst shoved her. It is unclear what happened next. It appears from subsequent reports that Tolhurst became aggressive, and Ms. Clair was angry and upset enough that she did what many a young woman, accosted by a wild and unpredictable man confronting her on the normal rounds of her business and picking a fight, would do.
She went to get her dad.
Ted Clair worked across town, several miles away. No doubt, the interruption was inconvenient. Still, some guy had pushed his daughter. It’s not hard to imagine what his reaction was.
He should have called the police. Or counseled his daughter to stay away from the guy. Or… well, it’s easy to second-guess. But what he did do was entirely human.
He got into his car, drove to the site of the altercation, and confronted the guy who had pushed his daughter down.
It’s hard to know exactly who did what. But from police reports based on what was said by witnesses at the time, it seems that Clair basically went at Tolhurst and proceeded to do his best to teach him a lesson.
He was so overwhelmingly successful at this that, at some point, Tolhurst apparently began to feel that his life was at risk. Which, apparently, caused him to draw a knife, and start stabbing Clair
By the time the police arrived, Clair was severely wounded. Ms. Clair too had been cut, trying to grab the knife blade and keep Tolhurst from killing her dad. Tolhurst was arrested, Clair was taken to the hospital, where he underwent several surgeries to repair the damage.
Tolhurst was held for a few days. After deliberations among the Grants Pass police, the District Attorney, the parties to the altercation, and the witnesses, a decision was reached to file no charges – against either party.
It’s difficult to second-guess an event from a distance. And much of one’s perspective will inevitably be determined by one’s instinctive sympathies.
For example, much of the local “Right to Life” group rallied around Tolhurst in the aftermath. They wrote letters to the editor, demanding that Clair be prosecuted. They expressed their alarm that a member of their community was so brutally attacked. They decried the indiscretion of Mr. Clair in confronting Tolhurst directly, instead of calling the police.
Concern for the stabbing victim, to the extent it was felt, was expressed quietly. After all, this is a conservative town.
Once charges were dropped – even-handedly, against both sides, or so it must have been thought by the local authorities – that should have been that. After all, justice had been achieved, right?
Tolhurst had one direct consequence as a result of his actions on October 23. He was barred from the vicinity of the local Planned Parenthood office, per a restraining order. He therefore shifted his operations to the County courthouse.
On December 6, persons thus far unnamed apparently assaulted Tolhurst, and, for reasons thus far unclear, beat him about the head… with his own sign.
Tolhurst was seen walking away from the scene – still carrying the sign in question. He received medical treatment. The perpetrator(s) have thus far not been identified, or caught.
Ted Clair, meanwhile, has undergone several surgeries, attempting to repair the damage done by his confrontation with Tolhurst.
The local reaction? Several Grants Pass residents have called for an investigation. They allege that there were “hate crimes” perpetrated. They want a Federal indictment. They are not satisfied with the justice that has been done to date.
Of course, the person they want investigated for “hate crimes” is the person who beat up Tolhurst.
The “right to life” of Mr. Clair – the stabbing victim – has, thus far, attracted not nearly as much attention as that of the not-yet-born. Who were, in reality, never threatened by the Planned Parenthood office Tolhurst had targeted. After all, the Grants Pass office of Planned Parenthood, like most across the country, does not in fact provide abortions.