Former President Barack Obama and other political and celebrity voices seized on a murder spree at Atlanta-area massage parlors as a call to dismantle “white supremacy” – despite the lack of any apparent anti-Asian hate motive.
“Although the shooter’s motive is not yet clear, the identity of the victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end,” Obama said Wednesday on Twitter. While also using the horrific shootings to argue for gun laws, he added that America must “root out the pervasive patterns of hatred and violence in our society.”
Even as we’ve battled the pandemic, we’ve continued to neglect the longer-lasting epidemic of gun violence in America. Although the shooter’s motive is not yet clear, the identity of the victims underscores an alarming rise in anti-Asian violence that must end.
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) March 17, 2021
Obama was far from alone in trying to make the story about skin color. Democrat lawmakers, such as US Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York) and Cori Bush (Missouri), as well as a number of celebrities were quick to use the Georgia shootings as further proof that white supremacy is a crisis in America.
“Dismantling racist, anti-Asian violence means standing up to white supremacy,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. Bush offered a similar take: “We mourn those killed last night in Atlanta with you. We will dismantle white supremacy alongside you.”
Dismantling racist, anti-Asian violence means standing up to white supremacy – the same ideology that asks us to empathize with those who commit racist violence rather than the families destroyed and communities targeted by it.#StopAsianHate
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 17, 2021
To our Asian neighbors, family, and friends. I know that the world seems more scary today. More cruel. Know that we love you.We mourn those killed last night in Atlanta with you. We will dismantle white supremacy alongside you.
— Cori Bush (@CoriBush) March 17, 2021
But others suggested that the shootings that left eight people dead, including six victims of Asian descent, had nothing to do with race, animosity toward Asians or white supremacy.
Author Andy Ngo, whose parents fled to the US from their native Vietnam as refugees in 1978, asked Bush what evidence there was indicating that the murders were motivated by white supremacy. “Is the rationale that because the suspect is white, this is white-supremacist violence?” he asked. “Do you want this logic applied to Muslims and other groups of people?”
What evidence is there so far that the shootings & murders were motivated by white supremacy? Is the rationale that because the suspect is white, this is white supremacist violence? Do you want this logic applied to Muslims & other groups of people? https://t.co/sXgo68jBv4
— Andy Ngô (@MrAndyNgo) March 17, 2021
Writer Ahmed Elkady responded similarly to Obama, saying, “Don’t politicize race, dude. As an Asian-American, I don’t feel this behavior targets toward Asians [sic]. Its target is the massage parlor. A lot of them happen to be operated by Asian people.”
Don’t politicize race dude. As an Asian American I don’t feel this behavior target towards Asian. It’s target is the Massage Parler, a lot of them happen to be operated by Asian people.
— Ahmed Elkady 🇾🇪 (@ahmmedelkady) March 17, 2021
In fact, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds said Wednesday that the suspect, 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, told police that there was no racial motivation. Instead, he said he had an addiction to sex and was trying to eliminate the temptation of the massage parlors, which he allegedly frequented.
In addition to fatally shooting six Asian women (two of Chinese ethnicity and four of Korean descent), the assailant killed one white woman and one white man. He also injured a Hispanic man.
Mainstream media outlets combed through Long’s social media accounts and interviewed acquaintances, likely hoping to paint a portrait of a white supremacist who was taught by former President Donald Trump to hate Asians. They found that he was a deeply religious Christian and loved pizza, guns and music.
A former roommate told CNN that he never heard Long “say anything racial,” adding that he suffered from sexual addiction, just as the suspect told police. Long spent time in rehabilitation for his sexual addiction last year, the roommate said. Another acquaintance spoke of how Long was tormented by his sexual addiction and said that he “relapsed” and went to massage parlors to engage in sexual acts.
But politicians and other opportunists could only see the Atlanta murders through the lens of skin color. The NAACP called the shootings “a disgusting and disturbing example of how the spread of domestic terrorism has been allowed to torment communities. These acts are the visible manifestation of hateful words birthing hateful acts.”
A disgusting and disturbing example of how the spread of domestic terrorism has been allowed to torment communities.These acts are the visible manifestation of hateful words birthing hateful acts!An attack on One is an attack on ALL!#StopAsianHatehttps://t.co/Dba3F7gdRc
— NAACP (@NAACP) March 17, 2021
Hollywood joined in the narrative. “We’re going to use this rage,” film producer Adele Lim said, before deleting the tweet. “We know who and what to go after. We’re gonna take down every racist pillar in the hate-cult, gun-worshiping, far-right basket of murderous a**wipes.” Actor George Takei of ‘Star Trek’ fame suggested that Republicans in Congress who referred to Covid-19 as the “China Virus” may have motivated the shooter.
We’re going to use this rage. We know who and what to go after. We’re gonna take down every racist pillar in the hate-cult gun-worshipping far right basket of murderous a**wipes https://t.co/cc2I9BQrnv
— Adele Lim (@adeleBlim) March 17, 2021
Three days ago, the leader of the House GOP called it the “China Virus” again. Words have consequences, especially those from our leaders.Reporters: Ask politicians who trade in racism if they feel responsible or remorseful for violence committed in the wake of their words.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) March 17, 2021
The murders happened just before Wednesday’s release of a report on domestic violent extremism by US intelligence agencies. The unclassified summary said that racially or ethnically motivated extremists represent the most “lethal” domestic terrorism threats, and that white supremacists have the “most persistent and concerning transnational connections” because people with similar beliefs exist outside the US.
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