How “Kate Plus 8” Motivated the Discovery Channel Gunman

Image: iamkennard/Twitpic

Gunman James J. Lee was shot by police yesterday after taking hostages at the Discovery Channel headquarters near Washington, DC. After a four-hour standoff and negotiations, police killed Lee, who had a bomb and looked prepared to shoot hostages.

What, exactly, was Lee’s beef with the Discover Channel? Bloomberg BusinessWeek explains:

A gunman police shot to death after he took hostages at Discovery Channel’s headquarters said he hated the company’s shows such as “Kate Plus 8” because they promote population growth and its environmental programming because it did little to save the planet…In court and online, he had demanded an end to Discovery Communications LLC’s shows such as TLC’s “Kate Plus 8” and “19 Kids and Counting.” Instead, he said, the network should air “programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility.”

Lee, 43, also objected to Discovery’s environmental programming. Lee faulted the Discovery Channel for shows as varied as “Future Weapons,” “It Takes a Thief” and “Planet Green.” He wrote in 2008 that a show he called “Planet Green” was “about more PRODUCTS to make MONEY, not actual solutions.”

In the February 2008 protest in which he was arrested, he threw fistfuls of cash in the air and paid homeless people to carry signs condemning the network. Police found his pockets stuffed with more than $20,000, according to court records.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has more on Lee’s outlook:

In a list of demands (Lee) apparently posted before invading the Discovery building, Lee, whose MySpace page identifies him as a Silver Springs resident, repeatedly spoke of “parasitic human infants” and “unwanted pollution babies” and furiously argued that humans were destroying the planet with pollution, war and over-population. But unlike earlier eco-terrorists like Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Lee zeroed in on immigrants as a primary evil. He spoke of “anchor baby filth,” a reference to babies born in the United States to undocumented immigrants.

“NO MORE BABIES!” he wrote in his list of demands. “Population growth is a real crisis. Even one child born in the US will use 30 to a thousand times more resources than a Third World child. It’s like a couple are having 30 babies even though it’s just one. If the US goes in this direction maybe other countries will too!”

The argument that immigration fuels environmental degradation has become increasingly popular in nativist circles. In late July, in fact, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a special report — “Greenwash: Nativists, Environmentalism & the Hypocrisy of Hate” — that detailed how right-wing immigration restrictionists were attempting to appeal to environmentalists to join their battle. The report suggested that most of those making such appeals were disingenuous about their interest in the environment, and were merely cynically seeking allies.

Lee wrote a manifesto for the Discovery Channel on his website, Among the points:

All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions. In those programs’ places, programs encouraging human sterilization and infertility must be pushed. All former pro-birth programs must now push in the direction of stopping human birth, not encouraging it.

It is the responsiblity of everyone to preserve the planet they live on by not breeding any more children who will continue their filthy practices. Children represent FUTURE catastrophic pollution whereas their parents are current pollution. NO MORE BABIES! Population growth is a real crisis. Even one child born in the US will use 30 to a thousand times more resources than a Third World child. It’s like a couple are having 30 babies even though it’s just one! If the US goes in this direction maybe other countries will too!

Develop shows that will correct and dismantle the dangerous US world economy. Find solutions for their disasterous Ponzi-Casino economy before they take the world to another nuclear war.


Is it apt to label Lee an eco-terrorist? I’m not fond of the word “terrorist,” but in Lee’s case, it fits. He used fear, weapons and threats to try to gain publicity his points about the environment. Luckily, he didn’t kill anyone.

Some of Lee’s points are valid when you pare down all the extremist rhetoric. American babies do consume more than those in developing countries. Our economy is pretty Ponzi-ish of late. But, being an extremist, Lee was convinced these conditions needed a maverick hero. He also misread the Discovery Channel’s goals with shows like “Kate Plus 8.” It’s not about promoting large-scale reproduction as it is about entertainment and shock value.

Lee interpreted Discovery’s motives through his distorted perspective, then felt compelled to make the “change” that nobody else would. I’m sure most extremists think this way. Some such quasi-heros inevitably find gaps in which to act on their drives, harming or killing people in the process. With the bad economy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more people taking similar offensive leaps.

That said, can you imagine what would happen if the Discovery Channel really did air shows like “Sterilization Nation” and “19 Abortions and Counting?” There would be far more than just one hostage-taker at its headquarters.

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Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.