SPECIES AND TOWN: Were the killings caused by racial hatred?


The way our species reacts: Last Tuesday, Robert Long—age 21—shot and killed eight people in Atlanta and its environs.

Reportedly, Long has admitted to these crimes. We use the word "crimes" because, again reportedly, there is no sign that Long has offered a defensible justification for these deadly attacks.

Quite to the contrary! Reportedly, Long has explained his actions in a way which takes us the border surrounding the use of the colloquial term "crazy." Somewhat surprisingly, Peggy Noonan offered a sensible observation on Sunday's Meet the Press:

NOONAN (3/21/21): Asian-Americans have been under stress in this country and under various laws and strictures many times over this century. One of the things I think, bottom line, is that when a people tell you that they are feeling more threatened and that their position has become less secure in America, just stop and believe them. People don't report that for no reason. 

There were rallies around the country this week. That sounds sort of pro forma. I don't think so. I think it was a very good thing. 

What is needed very much now as we go through this huge cultural reckoning is a sense, I think, not only of affection and respect, but a sense of, "We've got your back." You can't say it enough. We've got your back, we're all in this together. That's one thing. Another thing, very quickly, is that every time we deal with one of these violent episodes, it reminds me that we are in a mental health crisis in America. Gun control won't, won’t solve everything. We're in that crisis. And at the center of it is our young men.

We don't necessarily agree with several parts of what Noonan said. That said, we were struck by the highlighted statement, in which she suggested that the Atlanta killings involve issues of "mental health."

Are we really "in a mental health crisis in America?" That is to say, are we suffering, to some unusual degree, from breakdowns in mental health?

We don't know how to answer that question. But we'd be inclined to regard the following as obvious:

When someone engages in the kind of lunatic behavior Long exhibited, we take it as obvious that the behavior raises questions of "mental health."

That said, very few pundits have been inclined to raise the question of this young man's mental health. When Kevin Drum touched on this issue in the puzzling post we quoted yesterday, he did so in this manner: 

[T]he bare facts nonetheless suggest that anti-Asian racism really wasn't a major factor in the shootings. I accept this, more or less, and yet I've come to realize that I don't care. Since I'm normally committed to facts above all else, what explains this?

I've been pondering this, and the best I can come up with is a twofold explanation. First, we really don't know anything for sure. And since it was Asian women who Long used to satisfy his reviled sex obsession, it hardly seems plausible that anti-Asian sentiment wasn't swirling around somewhere in his diseased mind.

In that passage, Drum—remember, he's our favorite blogger—starts by saying that he doesn't care what's actually true in this matter. Then, he refers to Long's "diseased mind." 

That's a demonized reference to mental illness. A person could say that the locution comes to us straight out of some "Christianist" playbook.

Here in Our Town, we've largely reacted in such ways to the Atlanta killings:

We walk away from elementary facts, to the extent that the elementary facts are even known at this time.

We refuse to wait for such facts to emerge. Also, we rarely mention the obvious factor of (apparent) mental illness.

The reason why we do this is obvious. There's an alternate Storyline out there, one we love to recite.

What is that alternate Storyline—the Storyline to which we refer? You can read about it in today's New York Times, in this surprisingly accurate column by Bret Stephens.

(Headline: The Atlanta Massacre and the Media’s Morality Plays.)

Why do we say that Stephens' column is "surprisingly accurate?" We do so for  a basic reason. 

In our view, Stephens often presents a sensible premise at the start of his columns. But he has often wondered a bit far afield by the time his column is done.

We don't think he wanders today. He describes the story Our Town likes to tell, and we think he does so quite sensibly. He notes the way we abandon normal journalistic procedures as we pursue this tribal pleasure all through the streets of Our Town.

Why did Robert Long commit those lunatic killings? At this point, we can't answer your question, but we can draw an obvious contrast. Indeed, Kevin Drum noted the same fairly obvious contrast at the start of his puzzling post:

Was Robert Aaron Long motivated by anti-Asian racism when he went on his killing rampage in Atlanta last week? Six of his eight victims were Asian massage parlor workers, so at first the answer seemed pretty obvious: Of course he was.

But then things got more complicated. Racist mass shooters are usually proud to acknowledge their racism, but Long said he didn't care about race. Others who knew him confirmed this. And unlike most racist attackers, he didn't have a Facebook page full of racial fulminations or a Twitter feed that retweeted anti-Asian hate speech. At a conscious level, at least, Long really did seem to be motivated mostly by misogyny and sex obsessions.

Indeed! Unlike some other mass killers, Long doesn't seem to have a history of overt racial hatred. Some such history may yet surface, but there's no such obvious history now, except that we can create. 

(Example: In 2015, Dylann Roof, then 21, shot and killed nine good, decent people at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Roof had an overt history of tragically crackpot "racial" hatred. It's obvious that those killings were driven by racial hatred in a way which doesn't exist in this latest instance.)

Were the Atlanta killings driven by some racial animus? Sadly, it's not at all clear that they were.

That said, thought leaders in Our Town have a story they love to recite. They're willing to disappear logic and facts in pursuit of its recitation—and it's long been clear that recitation and repetition lie at the heart of modern-day, upper-end journalism. 

A vast array of credentialed experts have spoken to us in the past week. "This is our species' brain on tribal conflict," these despondent world experts have said.

Tomorrow: Few facts not left behind


  1. From Monica Hesse’s column that Somerby dismissed the other day:

    “I would, however, love to hear about mental health. Let’s have that conversation. Let’s have symposiums and colloquiums and serious studies and interventions — my God, let’s talk about mental health. But I do not need to hear about it from the politicians who, as soon as they are given the opportunity, slash community health budgets, show more fealty to insurance companies than their constituents and refuse to address the poverty and other underlying conditions that can make it difficult or impossible for Americans to seek quality mental health care.

    In other words, I do not need to hear about mental health from people who are using it as a temporary diversion so they do not have to talk about guns.”

    But only (conservative) Peggy Noonan gets credited by Somerby for mentioning mental health.

    I also notice that Noonan, like the conservative she is, dismisses any serious discussion of gun control. In fact, she is one of those posturers that Hesse complains about, seeming to fret over “mental health”, but unwilling to do anything about it as a matter of policy or investment. It’s a good talking point, though.

    1. mh, Peggy Noonan, doesn’t have the power to enact legislation.

      The other people that Hesse doesn’t want to hear from or bother to persuade do have that power.

      How can anyone read crap like this statement from Hesse and then wonder why Somerby uses the word “performative” for the media.

    2. Somerby is discussing Noonan, not Hesse.

    3. mh, was discussing Hesse. I replied to remarks he quoted from her.

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  2. Here is Jessica Valenti's take on why Long shot those women:


    With his emphasis on denying that Long was racist, Somerby pays no attention whatsoever to the misogyny at the heart of Long's crime, exacerbated by his Christian upbringing.

    Phew, if Long was racist then everything is OK, right? No need for change in our pop culture, no need to stop excusing men for their aggression against women, no need for Somerby to examine his own attitudes. Everything is A-OK because Long didn't have a social media page where he called out Asian women as being specifically too sexy for his lusts.

    Needless to say, Bret Stephens is no liberal, but once again we are subjected to his mumblings, as if he has anything to say to us that would be helpful in these circumstances.

    Can't wait to hear what Somerby has to say about the shooting yesterday in Boulder, CO. If that shooter said nothing specific about Asians, then that will make Somerby's world perfect.

    1. Typo correction: "Phew, if Long was racist" should be "Phew, if Long was NOT racist".

    2. Boulder CO had a ban on AR-15 rifles that was just overturned by the state court because it conflicted with state laws. Those 10 people in CO were shot with an AR-15 brought into the store. One of those shot was the woman standing first in line to get her covid shot. The law against AR-15s in Boulder was passed because of these types of shootings, but citizens of Boulder were not permitted to protect themselves.

      We don't yet know the motive of this shooter, because he said nothing before opening fire. I suppose that will make his shooting a matter of "mental health" too? Because no one sane would shoot innocent people, this insistence that mental health explains everything strikes me as an excuse not to grapple with the actual causes of these crimes. Even if someone is mentally ill, there is still a cause beyond that illness, since less than 5% of mentally ill people commit any act of violence and when they do, it is directed against therapists and family members. Do WHY are these mentally ill MEN committing these crimes? That question requires an answer, not just a shrug and "well, I guess they were crazy". These crimes don't come out of nowhere.

  3. From The Bulwark, founded by conservatives like Bill Kristol:

    The Georgia Shootings and America’s Misogyny Crisis

    The money quote:

    “The bigger, more insidious problem underlying violence against women—including the murders in Georgia—is misogyny. But misogyny itself is not a mental illness. Just as it’s important not to moralize disease, it’s important not to pathologize evil. Some thoughts and actions—and indeed, people—are just bad.”

    Since the magazine is run by conservatives, you’d think Somerby might pay attention to it. They aren’t fans of Trump, so I guess that’s why he ignores them.

  4. If long were an atypical racist without a Facebook page, would that make him any less a racist? I'm not sure that social media participation should be a prerequisite for being considered racist.

    1. Your question is predicated on a complete certainty that Long's rampage was racially motivated.

    2. No, it is a hypothetical. Note the word "If".

    3. Racist social media screeds are not a prerequisite for being a racist.

      However, those things are a red flag for people whose rage and hate take them to the point of committing a crime.

  5. "It's obvious that those killings were driven by racial hatred in a way which doesn't exist in this latest instance."

    Long's misogyny was blatant and in your face, and yet Somerby has said nothing at all about it. Why is that? If Somerby thinks the media is focused on the wrong type of hate, shouldn't he point out the hate Long did display?

    Somerby's silence in the face of this assault on women is glaring. It is odd in a so-called media critic. It is odd in a human being. It would be doubly odd in a liberal, but we know that Somerby is no liberal, as he quotes Peggy Noonan (Reagan speechwriter) and Bret Stephens (climate science denier) and never mentions that this was a hate crime against women.

    1. Anonymouse 10:02am, TDH has blogged several times on these killings.

      How has Somerby been silent “in the face of this assault on women...”?

      No, Somerby doesn’t have to make assertions on “the hate Long did display” in order to have the right to say that people shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

      Doing that would be contradictory to his criticism of the media.

    2. Please quote anything Somerby said with regard to this killing that focuses on women as the targets.

    3. Anonymouse 4:28pm, the subject of whether this is a hate crime involves gender and ethnicity.

      Somerby has said what the investigators have said. They haven’t arrived ag that determination as yet.

      You have, and you make an assertion about Long’s misogyny and then demand that he run it up the flagpole and salute it.

    4. I said that someone doesn't have to say "I hate Asians and I hate women and I hate Asian women most of all!" before you can deduce a hate crime was committed. The evidence needed to convict and the evidence needed by the media to label a crime racial are two different things. The press is not a court. It is telling people what happened. If they didn't tell folks that Asian women were deliberately targeted (as they were), they are not doing their jobs properly.

      Long has made misogynistic comments reported by those who know him and he has explained his reasons to cops while confessing and they are misogynistic too. That one is less of a reach and thus it is more telling that Somerby never discusses it.

    5. We don’t know that Asian women were deliberately targeted. We know massage parlors were targeted.

      Ostensibly...the media isn’t trying to convict anyone and therefore doesn’t have to rise to the standard of making a case that consists of what constitutes proof in a court.

      However, the media does have to consider what they say in regards to such matters lest they give their audience the impression that they are doing exactly that.

    6. Yes, we do know that Asian women were targeted because the massage parlors were geographically distant and he drove to them specifically. He didn't just go to whatever place was closest at hand.

  6. “Were the killings caused by racial hatred?”

    This seems like an incorrect framing of the problem. Many racists don’t end up killing anyone. I’m not sure anyone is saying he killed those people because he’s a racist. It would be more accurate to wonder if racial hatred was a contributing factor or had anything to do with the choice of victim or location. Just as with misogyny, that is the question prosecutors ask when deciding to charge a hate crime.

  7. This blog keeps missing the forest for the trees. Loneliness in America is a mental health crisis. Instead of people having normal social lives, they are driven into the arms the Church, consumerism, online women-hating groups, personal obsessions, and other simplistic power trips such as racism.

    We could instead give people more free time from their jobs, tamp down on consumerism, not allow the feds bust up unions and not antagonize community organizations for political gain. But the media and the powerful don't want to do that. So they'll give you a partial explanation.

  8. If we aren't going to do something about the guns, can we at least do something about the limitless supply of white losers in this country?

    1. There are studies showing that women who spend time on social media tend to feel like losers for not being attractive or thin enough, for not having the sparkly social lives displayed by their friends in social media photos, and for not having good jobs, lots of friends, plenty of likes and so on. The social comparison can be brutal and is self-inflicted while people edit their posts to make their lives seem better than they actually are.

      I'm sure men make some similar sort of comparison of social success. These incels don't seem to be able to deal with that and wind up blaming women, but perhaps this is another emerging negative impact of social media on our lives, just as the disinformation around the election was. David Futrelle covers discussion at the misogynist social media sites, often without much empathy, but that snapshot of how men feel about women is chilling to read, especially if you are female. https://wehuntedthemammoth.com/

      Not only do these men amplify their own feelings, they don't get any moderating influence from other men, and their rape and violence fantasies are echoed and normalized, just as occurs with racist talk at racist websites.

      I think this gives "consumerism" a face and suggests that men need some intervention, some positive influence to counteract this cesspool on social media. The intersection of race and misogyny fuels Trump's audiences as well. Without Trump's woman-hating behavior, his crowds would be smaller.

      That's why Somerby's silence about this bothers me. The unwillingness of men to examine and do something about this is going to lead to more violence and all the complaints by women, such as Jessica Valenti's article today in the NY Times (ignored by Somerby) isn't going to be able to prevent it.

    2. @11:23 talks about "white losers". However, Blacks commit far more murders per capita than whites. Blacks commit more hate crimes against Asians per capita than whites.

      @11:23 got misled by a media that gives disproportionate coverage to crimes committed by whites.

    3. David in Cal,
      Are you a Democrat now?
      Asking because you noticed "race".

    4. The Miami New Times reported Friday on a woman of Chinese descent riding a public bus in Miami-Dade County. She saw a fellow commuter talking without a mask and asked him to put one on. It set him off on a racist rant. He became aggressive, and the woman began to record him with her phone.

      In the video, the man states, "Mind your goddamn business, Chinese lady. Ugly ass c----," using a slur for Asian people. He later says to a woman traveling with him to "smile for this c----."

      It's an alarming piece of video, perfect for cable news's preference for sensational imagery. And yet it doesn't appear to have aired anywhere, even though CNN and MSNBC have been running segment after segment on a surge in anti-Asian sentiment. Could this be because, once again, the man in the video is demonstrably not a white supremacist? He is black.


    5. Man that corporate-owned media sure hates whitey. Probably why you never see them call for higher corporate tax rates, to fund benefits for the "white working class", who are suffering from "economic anxiousness".

      Fortunately, Republican politicians want the government to force corporations to give me veto power over corporate board members.
      Now, that's Populism you can believe in.

  9. The Boulder shooter was "mentally ill" for being paranoid and anti-social, and wasn't targeting women although 7 of the 10 people he killed were women because that who is mostly shopping in the middle of the day. But if he didn't shout out "Death to all women" before shooting them, then it cannot be misogyny.

    And Ted Cruz is apparently unaware that the rollback of anti-AR-15 regulations in Boulder put that weapon in the shooter's hands. He makes some ill-timed remarks about liberals wanting gun control, that have the effect of rubbing this tragedy in the faces of Boulder residents. But he isn't running for office here in Boulder.

  10. "We use the word "crimes" because, again reportedly, there is no sign that Long has offered a defensible justification for these deadly attacks."

    There is no sense in which shooting 8 people is not a crime. His responsibility may be in question, but the fact of the CRIME is not.

    This daintiness on Somerby's part is infuriating. If he even pretended to show this much consideration for the victims, he might appear less lacking in empathy and more like an actual member of our "species" (as he puts it).

    1. In 30 days you won't even remember this shooting or anything you think it represents. It will all be totally erased from your mind. You will be focusing on whatever your culture masters serve you and the rest of the sheep for that week. Culture uses you. It has total control over you. You let total idiots on irrelevant blogs control your mind. What you do with your thoughts is your own business. I'm just saying it's boring and stupid to give them over to someone else as you do every day of your life.

    2. At MIT, female students still commemorate the Canadian Ecole Polytechnique massacre because those women were shot because they wanted to pursue science, just like the women at MIT. It think that contradicts your assertion that no one remembers such events.

      Just because this doesn't matter to you, doesn't mean it doesn't matter to others.

    3. 8:18,
      Could be worse. 12:43 could have fallen for the old "border crisis" gag the Right-wing media (AKA the media) and GOP are running this week.

  11. “Unless Somerby wants to deal with those issues, he is better off not trying to blame the media for calling this a hate crime.”

    That makes absolutely no sense.

    1. To you. That makes absolutely no sense to you.

    2. No, it makes no logical sense.

      You do not have to harbor theories as to how we should deal with hate in order to criticize the media for rushing to judgment.

    3. Somerby has rushed to judgment just as surely as the press he criticizes. His judgment just differs from theirs, since he is conservative.

    4. "rushing to judgement"

      I wish. They still won't report on the connection between the plethora of guns in society and violence.

    5. Here is the question Somerby should be asking (and demanding that the press answer), from Paul Campos at LGM blog:

      "What happens when somebody who suffers from paranoid delusions and has a history of violence can get easy access to an assault weapon and a bullet proof vest?"

    6. Anonymouse 1:38pm, you don’t “rush to judgment” by saying what law enforcement has stated at a particular point in an investigation.

    7. 1:48,
      The Mueller Report called. It said you are a ridiculous hack, who no one should take seriously.

    8. Anonymous 4:10pm, after two years, that’s all the Mueller Report came up with on Trump too.

    9. This isn't over yet.

    10. Anonymouse 8:02pm, I’ve said that more than once. We do not know yet.

      That why you don’t jump to conclusions.

    11. For decades the media has jumped to the conclusion that Republicans "believe" lowering taxes stimulates the economy, just because they say so. In the 4+ decades the media have been "reporting" this news, there has been exactly no proof that any Republican anywhere actually believes it.

  12. Here is an interesting media observation noted by Digby:

    "It remains infuriating how the press defaults to characterizing relief checks intended to rescue people as stimulus checks for rescuing the economy. Nowhere in the 628 pages of the ‘‘American Rescue Plan Act of 2021” does “stimulus” appear. Nor in the ‘‘Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act’’ or the ‘‘CARES Act’’ passed in March 2020."

    Why would the press be doing this?

    1. They also keep referring to the situation at the border as a “crisis.”

  13. Stephens says:
    “What can one conclude from this limited data? Not a lot, except that the idea that white supremacy is what haunts Asian-Americans rests on empirically thin ice.”

    He concludes his column this way:

    “readers deserve to know how the perpetrator was able to buy the murder weapon on the day of his killing spree. They ought to learn more about the religious mania that allegedly fueled his toxic anxieties. They deserve to know just how widespread the sex trade is in massage spas, and why local authorities seem to look the other way. And they ought to see where the evidence may yet lead, including the still-open possibility of hidden racial animus.

    All of this would be journalism in which the public could have confidence. Instead we have morality plays.”

    How much time has Stephens spent discussing any of this in his prominent column?* His main goal here seems to be to debunk the idea that white supremacy is a worthy topic of discussion. He never mentions misogyny.

    *Stephens has the gall to criticize the media this way, and yes, he is drawing a parallel between the coverage of the Atlanta shooting and the run up to the Iraq War:

    “In 2003, Saddam Hussein wanted weapons of mass destruction, previously possessed and used them and had a long history of obstructing international inspectors. But it didn’t mean that Hussein had W.M.D.s.”

    It may be shocking, but here is Stephens’ stance on that:

    “Stephens was a "prominent voice" among the media advocates for the start of the 2003 Iraq War, for instance writing in a 2002 column that, unless checked, Iraq was likely to become the first nuclear power in the Arab world. Although the weapons of mass destruction used as a casus belli were never shown to exist, Stephens continued to insist as late as 2013 that the Bush administration had "solid evidence" for going to war.” (Wikipedia)

    It would appear that Bret Stephens has contributed to the public’s lack of confidence in journalism. What a troll.

    1. Being a shameless hypocrite is the Right-wing superpower.

  14. 'Here in Our Town'

    Somerby's town is the town of malevolent Trumptards who spend all their pathetic existence worshipping Trump and the right wing.

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