This week a man gunned down 8 people in Atlanta. They were all hard-working, underpaid women, and most were Asian-American. Following terrorist attacks like this, the media is perpetually focused on motive. It seems like nothing can really be decided about the crime until someone comes up with a reason why it was committed. Why in the sam hill is motive so important? Is there a motive out there that would offer a mitigating circumstance? Is there a reason to take the lives of innocent people that could help us understand it? Are some people actually looking to excuse mass murder?
This massacre is similar to Charleston, El Paso, Orlando, and Pittsburgh. We call them “hate crimes” because they target a specific group of people that the murderer hates. Rightfully so, hate crimes carry with them an extra wallop of punishment. However, massacres not targeting a particular ethnicity, like Sandy Hook, Virginia Beach, and Las Vegas also originate in hatred, arrogance, and rage. While most things have multiple causes, it is not possible to mow down whole groups of people without hatred as a prime motivator.
Some people are better than others at checkers or basketball. Some people are better at loving than others. And some people are better at hating than others. Good haters are always in denial about the darkness in their souls, because if they acknowledged it, they might have to stop hating. Love, and basketball, help people to grow. Hatred stunts growth, both personal and relational.
The FBI has informed us that the greatest terror threat to this country is now from domestic terrorists, mostly white supremacists. Many white men are not able to tolerate the idea that they might have to share their place at the top of the heap. Instead of waiting to find out if others might truly have something to offer, or whether their traditional power positions have truly been earned – they lash out. Some take to social media, some join hate groups, and the most unstable become domestic terrorists.
In my experience, only two groups of people who may commit terrorist acts are exempt from the obsession with motive. Those groups are Muslims and the police. 9/11 was an example of horrifying evil. But since then we have held onto the notion that all Muslims are prone to violence, and the average, law-abiding Muslim citizen is tarred with the same brush as Al Quaeda. Their “motive” is just being Muslim. While the majority of domestic terrorists are Christian, as a Christian myself I’ve never been lumped together with them.
And we still generally give the police a pass. Way too many people still look the other way, or find a way to justify, police killings of unarmed, mostly Black, people. Their motive may just as well be hatred, or even group-think, but since we have long ago sanctioned police violence, nobody asks about motive.
I have no doubt that focusing on “motive” for terrorist acts distracts us from the reality of the murderous rage and the hatred behind these acts. Evil is real. Human beings can do evil things.
We White people need to stop white-washing evil.