The bodies of the victims hadn’t gone cold, the families had barely begun grieving, when the familiar cottage industry of activists and journalists jumped in to speculate and spread misinformation on social media. What drove someone to slaughter eight people in three Asian massage parlors in Atlanta on Tuesday?
A clear storyline took hold: this was white supremacy at work. A young, white man murdered six Asian women and two ‘others’ made the framing a foregone conclusion. Not even new information from the investigators could slow down the risk to judgment.
Atlanta police chief Rodney Bryant said that it was too early to classify the shooting as a hate crime and FBI director Christopher Wray affirmed that it ‘does not appear to be racially motivated’. None of that stopped CNN declaring that ‘white supremacy and hate are haunting Asian Americans’. The suspect had told the police that the attack was not racially motivated; that he struggled with ‘sexual addiction’; that he was a frequent massage-parlor customer and carried out the crime to eliminate the sources of temptation. He was stopped by the police on his way to Florida, where he allegedly planned on continuing his rampage by targeting the porn industry.
The only piece of evidence so far that potentially supports the racial animus theory is a report in a South Korean newspaper that the shooter had yelled out ‘I want to kill all Asians’. But let’s be real. If the claim had even one iota of credibility, it would already have been reported all over a desperate media in search of a smoking racist gun. Nevertheless, the rumor did the rounds on social media and reporters parroted it unquestioningly.
This murder took place in the wake of a surge in anti-Asian crimes, which first gained momentum during the COVID-19 lockdowns and increased recently. Numerous videos of elderly Asians being assaulted and attacked have gone viral on social media; recent high-profile cases such as the unprovoked attack of a 84-year-old Vietnamese man in San Francisco who died of his injuries forced the national media to pay attention.
Yet the cognoscenti can only think one way, so it ascribed blame on Trump’s rhetoric surrounding the ‘China virus’ and the eternal boogeyman of white supremacy. Vox showcased impressive mental gymnastics to explain that it was white supremacy that fueled the black-Asian racial hostilities while a sitting member of the Oakland City Council wrote in an op-ed that ‘anti-black and anti-Asian violence comes from the same root causes: white supremacy and capitalism’.
Meanwhile, it was plain to see from viral surveillance videos that it wasn’t MAGA-hatted assailants chanting ‘Chy-na virus’ or ‘Kung Flu’ as they took out defenseless elderly Asians. These attacks, mostly carried out by minorities in progressive cities like Oakland, San Francisco and New York, make it really hard to argue that the rhetoric of a former president is responsible for pulling the puppet strings of constituents who most likely didn’t vote for him. Indeed, Department of Justice statistics show that while victims of violence tend to be targeted by perpetrators within their ethnicities far more than any other, Asian victims are targeted more by other races at the following rates: 27.5 percent black, 24.1 percent white, 21.4 percent Hispanic (compared to 24.1 percent Asian). This seems to suggest that the white supremacy thesis is extremely weak.
What we have instead is an emerging picture, corroborated by friends and family, of a mass shooter who struggled with reconciling the sin of extreme sex addiction and his Christian faith. So much so, he checked into a rehab clinic for sexual addiction, blocked porn sites from his computer and only used a flip phone in order to avoid ‘falling out of God’s grace’. It all culminated in the brutal assassination of the people he believed had led him into temptation and dishonor. In a way, this crime resembles more of an honor killing, a moral crusade steeped in misogynistic vengeance. He’s more Elliot Rodger than Dylann Roof.
The way this story and the discourse surrounding broader trends of anti-Asian violence has played out reveals the media’s commitment to activism, in particular, to view and dissect everything through the prism of critical race theory. It’s why previous anti-Asian assaults perpetrated by other minorities were largely ignored. When such incidents finally entered the national consciousness, they were explained away with white supremacy. NBC News even published an ‘expert’ view that insists that racial hatred inspired the Atlanta shooter because there ‘wasn’t a variety among the victims’. You wonder if murderers now have to adopt Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives into their moral calculus before pulling the trigger so that they would be considered ‘just’ a murderer? Our media class has decided that just because an outcome of the murder is racist — six out of eight victims were Asian women — and the killer, a white male with incel vibes, that there is no doubt that white supremacy was the culprit, long before the authorities have made headway into the investigation. This is a test, and just like the Covington Catholic School and the Jussie Smollett story, the mainstream media is failing it.
By all accounts, the 2016 Pulse nightclub massacre appeared to be a homophobic attack by a radical Islamist against the LGBT community. Years later, it became clear that everyone had gotten the story wrong. Omar Mateen didn’t target a gay club because of fundamentalism and ‘internalized homophobia’. Evidence from the trial showed that he had gone to a non-LGBT club but was thwarted because of armed security outside; in other words, the venue was chosen at random. His real motive was to punish the US for military strikes in the Middle East, a revision which is of scant comfort to the families of the 49 victims. But an accurate attribution of motive matters not just as a fundamental principle of truth-seeking, but also in the context of understanding our world and developing policies based on that understanding.
This eagerness to fit (and deny) the facts in order to manufacture a preferred storyline is not just dishonest, it’s also harmful. Instead of honoring the victims, we end up drafting them into our culture wars. In so doing, we do a disservice to the very people the shooter allegedly targeted — sex workers — whose wellbeing and rights are usually a pet cause for the progressive left. Lost in the focus on racism and white supremacy is a very real opportunity to recognize and acknowledge how often women who sell sex face violent assaults, how the industry remains a hotbed of sex trafficking. Similarly, if we allow the truth to be hijacked by race hustlers, we ignore the troubling issues which can arise when our secular liberal culture meets religious fanaticism.
Preliminary police data from 2020 does indeed show an upwards trend: in 16 American cities, anti-Asian hate crimes rose by 149 percent, while overall hate crimes dropped by 7 percent. There were three documented cases of anti-Asian hate in 2019 in New York City, compared to 28 such cases in 2020. While the sample size is small, the increase is clearly there, which is troubling in and of itself. But this statistic is still dwarfed by the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes (115) and anti-black hate crimes (39) in 2020. We hardly see the media reporting these numbers alongside the anti-Asian hate crime statistics. When CNN announces in a headline that ‘fetishized, sexualized and marginalized, Asian women are uniquely vulnerable to violence’, is it any wonder that Asian women are paralyzed by fear?
You might read such a headline and assume that evil racists are inflicting violence upon Asian women at the highest rates, but data from the CDC’s Wonder Database shows the exact opposite: when it comes to violent assault/killings, being an Asian woman is in fact, the safest demographic to be.
In our rage-fueled quest for answers and justice, time and time again, we have seen how ‘what it looks like’ can turn out to be so horribly wrong. As of now, the press’s foregone conclusion is not borne out by the facts. Sadly, ‘let’s wait and see’ does not make for compelling moral panic material.