Last month’s shooting in Chapel Hill, N.C., sparked a raging online argument over whether it was (a) an anti-Muslim hate crime or (b) a dispute over a parking space. The insistence that the motive for the crime was either one or the other omits the possibility that it was (c) both or (d) neither. The victims — Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, her sister Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and the older sister’s husband Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23 — were all Muslims. The shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, expressed his enthusiasms online:
On his Facebook page, Craig Hicks had a huge and revealing list of “Likes” that shows him much more preoccupied with Christianity than with Islam. He does post a chart likening “Radical Christians” to “Radical Muslims,” but that is about the extent of his mentioning of Islam at all. He likes the atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Bill Maher, all of whom have criticized Islam, but his page includes none of their statements about Islam. He likes many anti-Christian groups but no groups that are critical of Islam, and he even likes a group praising Obama for supporting the Ground Zero Mosque.
On Facebook, Hicks criticized Rick Santorum and supported the Southern Poverty Law Center so that, as Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch said, “Hicks is hardly the right-wing anti-Muslim Islamophobic redneck” liberals imagined. Jonathan Katz of the New York Times has commendably done more reporting:
A motive for the shooting may never be known. But interviews with more than a dozen of the victims’ friends and family members, lawyers, police officers and others make two central points: Before the shootings, the students took concerted steps to appease a menacing neighbor, and none were parked that day in a way that would have set off an incident involving their cars.
If those accounts do not prove what kind of malice was in Mr. Hicks’s heart, the details that emerge indicate that whatever happened almost certainly was not a simple dispute over parking. . . .
The contrast between the paunchy, balding Mr. Hicks and the rest of the [condominium] complex’s residents was stark. Many were aspiring professionals and academics at a premier public university. Mr. Hicks was unemployed, taking night classes at a community college in hopes of becoming a paralegal. He spent long hours in his apartment with a collection of at least a dozen guns, including four pistols and a Bushmaster AR-15. Mrs. Hicks told her lawyer that Mr. Hicks would stare out the second-floor window, obsessing over neighbors’ parties, patterns and parking. . . .
The neighbors’ relationship became testier when Ms. Abu-Salha started spending time at the apartment after the engagement, said Mr. Barakat’s former roommate, Imad Ahmad. In October, Mr. Hicks came knocking while they were cleaning up from a dinner party where they had played the board game Risk. He growled that they had woken up his wife, lifting his shirt to reveal a holstered gun. The students did not call the police, but there was little the authorities could have done if they had. Mr. Hicks had a concealed-carry permit. . . .
On Feb. 5, Mr. Hicks got more bad news: A judge had ordered a March 19 hearing over $14,189.54 in unpaid child support to his first wife, according to court records. . . .
He was undeniably obsessed with parking. Each unit got permits for up to two cars, but only one assigned spot. Building 20 had 13 spaces. Mr. Barakat and Ms. Abu-Salha were assigned space 20B. The next, 20C, belonged to Mrs. Hicks. Five spaces in the middle were unassigned and could be used for extra cars. Drivers also regularly parked on the side street.
The housing association allowed residents to have improperly parked cars towed. But Mr. Hicks abused this power until the housing association asked him to stop, his wife’s lawyer said. According to a police search warrant, he kept “pictures and detailed notes on parking activity” on his computer. . . .
You can read the whole thing, but it seems to me the conclusion is obvious: No, this “was not a simple dispute over parking,” but neither was it what we usually think of as a “hate crime.”
This was a classic Moody Loner crime. Every so often in a nation of more than 300 million people, these things happen. There are lots of disgruntled kooks out there, and it is usually not easy to predict when of them is about to commit a heinous act of violence.
About 10% of Americans are afflicted with mood disorders (depression or bipolar disorder), 18% have anxiety disorder, 10% have personality disorders and 7% have substance abuse problems. There’s some overlap between these categories, so that about 25% of Americans suffer some form of mental illness, and we can’t afford to lock all of them into lunatic asylums. It’s only after one of these Moody Loner types commits an atrocity that people (many of whom are themselves not entirely sane) jump to conclusions about the killer’s motives. In the Internet Age, tribal instinct expresses itself in a mob mentality where liberals try to pin the blame on right-wingers and vice-versa, but as the case of Craig Hicks shows, craziness is not so neatly partisan.
Have we seen this before? Sure, lots of times.
Elliot Rodger’s Isla Vista murder spree became a cultural Rashomon last year, with feminists insisting that the Creepy Little Weirdo proved something about violent misogyny. Perhaps so, but it mainly proved something about Creepy Little Weirdos. Last June, I quoted Daphne Patai’s 1998 book Heterophobia:
The sociologist Joel Best, in explaining how a social problem comes to prominence through the work of individuals who expand its definition and find ever more instances of it, labels this procedure the “just another example of X strategy” — where “X” is the problem that is being dramatized. Thus, he contends, the “domain” of the identified problem “expands,” as greater and greater claims are made for the problem’s pervasiveness.
In other words, when academics or journalists develop a sensitivity to something identified as a social problem — whether it’s “Islamophobia” or “rape culture” — they are always looking for examples of that problem. And this is where the overwhelming liberal bias of academia and media becomes a social problem of its own. Studies have shown that Democrats outnumber Republican at least 4-to-1 in newsrooms and university faculties, and this lopsided partisanship (which is certainly not accidental) yields compound interest over time.
Liberal hegemony in these influential institutions discourages conservatives from pursuing careers in academia or journalism, so that liberals within those institutions usually come to believe that All The Smart People agree with them.
If every textbook is edited by a liberal, if all newspapers are edited by liberals, if every major TV network news broadcast is produced by liberals, there is no reason for any liberal ever to doubt the correctness of his worldview. Therefore, the pet obsessions of liberals — e.g., the concern that Muslims are at risk of “Islamophobia” — take on the air of reality, so that liberal beliefs seem justified, no matter what the data actually show. Yet however great the harms produced by Islamophobia, the grand total of deaths in anti-Muslim hate crimes is much less than the death toll from Islamic terrorism. Americans’ fear of Islamic terrorism is far more rational than liberals’ fear of “Islamophobia.”
It is only because of liberal bias that people become so obsessed with the motives of crimes committed by Moody Loners like Craig Hicks or Creepy Little Weirdos like Elliot Rodger.
Dangerous kooks are usually just dangerous kooks whose “political” beliefs do not intersect with the political categories of non-kooks. Conservatives know, however, that,if any crime seems to confirm the liberal worldview, the media will rush to publicize the “right-wing” motive of the criminal — and will then mysteriously lose interest in the motive if evidence proves otherwise, as it so often does.
Remember the Tucson Massacre of 2011: Because the shooting targeted a Democrat congresswoman, it was instantly assumed by the media that Jared Loughner must be a right-winger. It turned out, however, that Loughner was a psychotic who had become obsessed with a left-wing 9/11 “Truther” video called Zeitgeist. Because I spent several days researching the Zeitgeist phenomenon in the wake of the Tucson Massacre, I can assure you that this would have been a fascinating subject for the New York Times or one of the major networks to do an in-depth report about. However, once it became clear that Loughner was not a right-winger, liberals instantly lost interest in his motive and there was never any real media follow-up on Loughner’s Zeitgeist obsession.
It is good that Jonathan Katz has devoted time to reporting on Craig Hicks’ motives, but a careful reader will notice that Katz isn’t very curious about the possible connection between Hicks’ avowed atheism and Hicks’ general anti-social attitude. Of course, this connection may be entirely random, and I don’t mean to suggest that we could be facing a wave of mass murders committed by deranged atheists. Yet when Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998, the media wasted no time in generalizing that crime into a crusade against “homophobia,” despite the lack of evidence that Shepard’s killers were homophobes.
There are many fascinating phenomena in our society that are ignored by the media because these phenomena contradict the liberal worldview, fake rape accusations and fake “hate” incidents, for example. Liberals are often eager to jump on certain stories — e.g., the University of Virginia “gang rape” hoax — but lose interest in the story once the fakery is exposed, never bothering to explore what motivates such hoaxes.
In-depth reporting on lesbian sex offenders? No, the New York Times will never study their motives. All criminals are created equal, but some criminals are more equal than others.
First published at TheOtherMcCain.com
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.